Category Archives: Suburbs

The Shame of Profiling, and Politics

Couple things caught our eye today that we wanted to pass along.

EvergreenParkPoliceFirst was an intriguing story by FOX 32’s Dane Placko about alleged racial profiling in Evergreen Park, where a black man was pulled over and allegedly told he could get off the hook if he was able to track down a handgun for the cops. (Eerily similar to another instance that involved a State Police trooper and was documented some months back by FOX.)

Here’s the most recent story:

http://www.myfoxchicago.com/story/20548214/man-claims-police-tried-to-make-deal-give-a-gun-get-out-of-ticket

Here’s the earlier State Police story:

http://www.myfoxchicago.com/story/18004562/man-says-state-trooper-extorted-him-to-get-gun-20120430

Meanwhile, on an unrelated note, we also recommend reading the first few “letters to the editor” in the Chicago Sun-Times today. They are spot on about Ed Burke, Mike Madigan and the rest of the political power elite running this city and state (and running them into the ground.)

To reach the Better Government Association, email rherguth@bettergov.org or call (312) 821-9030.

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Old-School Politics In New-Age Community?

State Sen. Don Harmon

Oak Park has a reputation as a progressive place, where education and the arts matter, where voters care about social issues and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.

They’d be “lakefront liberals” if the Eisenhower was water instead of exhaust-stained pavement.

Don Harmon, the state senator who represents the near western suburb and lives in town, says he takes pride in embodying Oak Park’s values and independent spirit.

But after researching how much state-government business his law firm has been getting, among other subjects, we have to wonder: is Harmon really a Machine Democrat in (organic, grass-fed) sheep’s clothing?

The Better Government Association recently found that the small Chicago law firm that employs Harmon has been paid millions of dollars over the years to provide legal services for state agencies – which Harmon, as a member of the General Assembly, helps oversee. He’s also voted on a piece of gaming legislation that his firm helped craft.

That’s a clear conflict of interest.

But even beyond all that, Harmon’s street cred as a “reformer” or progressive has to be questioned.

Why does his law firm advise public-sector clients not to speak to the media?

Why did he vote to water down the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which ensures journalists and regular citizens can access most government documents?

Why did he accept $300 in campaign donations just a couple months back from D & P Construction, a waste-hauling company that’s repeatedly (and publicly) been linked to the Chicago mob?

Why did he introduce a piece of legislation that would allow office holders to “double dip” – hold two elected positions at once?

Peter Silvestri, a Cook County commissioner and Elmwood Park’s village president, told the BGA that Harmon fronted that bill at his request. After the BGA learned of the legislation, Harmon relayed that he changed his mind and was withdrawing his support.

But about a month later he quietly resurrected the bill in the form of an amendment to an unrelated piece of legislation. When we tried to ask him about the flip-flop, Harmon wouldn’t return our calls. He later told the BGA he regretted getting involved in the matter. The legislation was never approved.

Lastly, although we’re not into branding people with “guilt by association,” it’s worth noting Harmon started out his career as an aide to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who is the ultimate Machine guy – one of the most powerful political figures in the state and one of the largest obstacles to reforming our troubled government system.

This isn’t to say Harmon hasn’t done good things. In fact, he’s worked with the BGA on legislation, including a successful effort to kill the misused and abused “legislative scholarship” program.

But judged through a larger prism, Harmon isn’t challenging the status quo. He is the status quo.

This blog post was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, Patrick Rehkamp and Robert Herguth. They can be reached at aschroedter@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9035.

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Stepping down, then stepping up in Stickney

Cody Mares quit his position as trustee with the Village of Stickney earlier this week just before a board meeting. He then was appointed head of public works at the meeting. This isn’t sitting well with several other trustees who suspect politics and friendship are trumping experience.

“Nobody in their right mind would place him there,” Trustee Fred Schimel told the Better Government Association, referring to Mares. The appointment – which came with little advance notice from Village President Dan O’Reilly, a political ally of Mares – “blew my a– away.”

Schimel walked out of the May 15 public meeting in frustration because of the situation.

O’Reilly, whom the BGA and FOX Chicago News previously reported was using village funds to buy flowers from the flower shop he owns, appointed Mares, then cast the tie-breaking vote to make it official.

“He’s a journeyman carpenter, he’s well qualified to lead maintenance workers,” O’Reilly said in defense of his pick. “He’s one of the best trustees I had.”

O’Reilly said the salary for Mares’ new position hasn’t been set but the previous guy made about $70,000. Trustees are paid roughly $7,000 a year.

Mares wouldn’t say why he was leaving the village board, but indicated he was “tired of politics.”

Stickney might be best known as home to a vast waste-water treatment plant.

Turns out the facility, located near Stickney’s Village Hall, is not the only thing making folks hold their nose in town.

This blog entry was written and reported by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp. He can be reached at prehkamp@bettergov.org or (312) 386-9201.

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Radio Silence in Melrose Park, Despite Some Promising Reforms

Hey, where'd you get that uniform?

Melrose Park remains a curious place.

Historically it was a town with strong organized crime influences. While the current leaders of Melrose Park may not like that image, they don’t do a lot to correct it either, considering Mayor Ron Serpico continues to take campaign contributions from a waste-hauling company that the FBI has long contended is run by two high-ranking mob figures.

But we digress.

The mob aside, run-of-the-mill public corruption hasn’t disappeared from the western suburb, as evidenced by a scandal a few years back that sent the now-former police chief, Vito Scavo, to federal prison.

His crimes?

The Chicago Sun-Times puts it quite succinctly: Continue reading

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