ROUNDUP: Kidding Around at CPS; D.C. Lobbyist Gets Another Deal at Sanitary District; Lush Spending in Lincolnwood

>> Southwest Side school under scrutiny on residency

In the old days, we heard somewhat regularly about city parents obtaining phony addresses in the suburbs so their kids could attend public school there for free and not be subjected to CPS.

Keller Elementary Gifted Magnet School

In a twist on that practice, we recently heard the Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general is investigating allegations that at least one family from the south suburbs is boundary jumping into the city so their kids can attend Keller Elementary Gifted Magnet School on the Far Southwest Side.

We wondered whether this might be a symptom of an improving – at least in some quarters – city school system.

Either way, it turns out residency schemes occur with relative frequency, according to the IG’s 2011 annual report, which reads:

“In FY 11, seven investigations conducted by the OIG [Office of Inspector General] found that CPS employees falsified their children’s residential address, and, in most cases, their own residential address on employment records with CPS, and enrolled their children in CPS despite residing in the suburbs. In addition to most of the employees being subject to discipline for residing in the suburbs, the employees are also liable for the payment of non-resident tuition for enrolling their children in CPS while residing in the suburbs. Based on all seven investigations, the OIG has recommended that CPS seek to recover $467,249.90 from CPS employees who have enrolled their children in Chicago public schools.”

Whatever’s happening at Keller, parents seem quite riled. We’ve fielded several calls and letters, and the theme was constant: if non-Chicago residents are taking up desks, it’s terribly unfair to Chicago residents scrapping to get accepted into a well-regarded school with limited slots.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know if and when we hear more.

>> Wasteful spending?

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

Two questions linger in the wake of a recent Metropolitan Water Reclamation District decision to hire Washington, D.C.,-based Carmen Group, Inc., to lobby the federal government on the agency’s behalf:

  • Why does the MWRD, which oversees sewage treatment for much of the Chicago region, need a federal lobbyist at all?
  • And assuming that a federal lobbyist is necessary, why did the MWRD hire Carmen for $417,600 a year – roughly $150,000 more than what the runner-up firm, Holland & Knight, proposed?

The MWRD officials we spoke with said having a federal lobbyist is important so on-going reservoir projects keep getting funding from the feds.

And Carmen and its higher costs were chosen, the officials said, because of the company’s deep connections, know-how and track record. (Carmen and its forerunners have held the MWRD’s lobbying contract since the mid-1970s – and until now they have, apparently, never had to bid for the work.)

We’re not taking a position on the proposals. (Full disclosure: one of the BGA’s 30-plus board members works for Holland & Knight.)

But it’s worth recalling some of Carmen’s recent history at another local governmental body, Metra. The BGA and Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2010 that the commuter rail agency’s annual payments to Carmen “more than doubled since 2002, when the firm hired John Ladd, the son of Metra’s then-board chairman, Jeff Ladd.”

It’s also worth noting that – in the bid proposal that was just accepted by the MWRD – Carmen proposed partnering with two politically connected groups to share in its lobbying work. One of those groups includes ex-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s former press secretary, Avis LaVelle. The other includes Southwest Side political boss Tom Hynes, the former Cook County assessor.

Assessing this situation, it’s reasonable to wonder if clout played a role in the decision-making.

One MWRD commissioner told us that, while it’s a “good question” to ask why there’s even a need for a federal lobbyist at this point at the MWRD, “none of us wants to be the one to say, ‘Let’s do without a lobbyist,’ and see [federal financial] support disappear the next year.”

>> This & That

  • In west suburban Melrose Park, a cop is likely getting his share of ribbing at the police station. While responding to an assault call a few weekends back, the officer exited his squad car but left it running. A teenage girl allegedly hopped in, took off and drove home to Cicero. Brings to mind another recent incident in which a squad car was allegedly swiped by a suspect in northwest Indiana.
  • Having trouble paying for your kid’s college tuition? Maybe you should run for political office, or volunteer for a political campaign. Because the children of politicos sure seem to be cleaning up on so-called “legislative scholarships,” free-tuition waivers awarded by state lawmakers to anyone they please. If you haven’t already, click here to check out the BGA’s petition to end these perks.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. He can be reached at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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