Conflict of Interest No. 12,498

In the February 24 article, “No Race in DeKalb’s 5th Ward” I decried the Illinois campaign laws that could be used to get a person kicked off the ballot for not much more than forgetting to cross a “t.” In my opinion only out-and-out fraud, such as forgery, should get a person tossed off the ballot.

Wilson blames two-thirds of the local election board, comprised of the mayor, city clerk and the 3rd Ward alderman (who voted in Wilson’s favor) for supporting perfect paperwork over competitive races. He’s got a point but the real culprits here are the cumbersome Illinois candidacy requirements and the shameless way they can be exploited by an experienced opposition, especially an incumbent candidate.

The reason that the local election board made a determination is that Wilson’s nominating petitions did not have to be perfect. The wording of the applicable state statute reads:

The name of no candidate for nomination…shall be printed upon the primary ballot unless a petition for nomination has been filed in his behalf as provided in this Article in substantially the following form: [Emphasis added.]

So there was some discretion involved. The board did not have to vote the way it did. I’ve wondered why Mayor Van Buer, who strikes me as someone who would support the spirit of the law and a true contest, voted against Wilson. Then this week I was tipped off to a stunning (to me, anyway) conflict of interest.

Gavin Wilson would have run against Ron Naylor, the other 5th Ward candidate who then cake-walked his way onto the City Council.

So guess who is the treasurer of the Van Buer for DeKalb campaign committee? Go on, look. I dare ya.

Why didn’t he recuse himself? Crikey. Had he no idea how that would LOOK?!

So, just as Roger Hopkin’s dual role as exec of both the DCEDC and the I-39 Logistics corridor makes me wonder about how hard he is working to get something besides warehousing into town, and just as Bob Pritchard’s acceptance of contributions from Cavel International make me ponder his motivation in supporting that business, now I must worry about the same types of conflict of interest in our mayor. A man I not only voted for, but for whom I pounded the pavement two years ago.

But probably will not do again.

26 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest No. 12,498”

  1. Please be cautious in always explaining conflict of interest as a motivation for action. In doing so, you Yinn will lose your credibility. In a small town conflict is virtually impossible to avoid. I was on the Van Buer committee, the core one, that contained other people. Yes, we worked together in the election to un-seat a mayor who had served too long and had forgotten that he had obligations to the citizenry.

    But we also consisted of people who had strong disagreements on other issues and after the election would actively disagree on these issues. The Mayor has actively imposed ideas put forth by at least two of the members of the committee, simply because people disagreed, and has not supported others of their efforts. When one of the committee members stepped over the line later on (I can’t elaborate on details since I don’t know them) the mayor was the one that called attention to the issue.

    You are using the worst political logic: cherry picking an example, not looking for the counter examples, and then using the cherry picked example to reinforce you case. You are doing with your blog exactly what you accused Donna Johnson of doing with the minutes.

    I am ashamed.

    See, you and I worked together on the openness stuff, disagreed albeit it mildly on the warehousesk, and now disagree on this one. What does that say about our conflicts? Are you going to attack me next, because on the balance I support the warehouses (because of the school district) and have negotiated with the developers on that issue.

    As a public commentator you have a responsiibility. Live up to it if you want to keep people such as myself as supporters.

  2. More
    In honesty I also had signs in my yard for Naylor and showed up at his neighborhood policy meeting. Oh, that’s where I met Gavin Wilson for the first time, he too was at Ron’s meeting. And, he and I strongly disagreed on the downtown plan and he admitted that he had not yet read it.

  3. Herb, I am not attributing conflict of interest as a motivator in any of the examples I have given. I am saying that the appearance of it causes distrust. In this instance, my opinion is that the mayor should have recused himself and that he blew it. If you are irritated with me so be it. I am fighting a sense of betrayal, myself.

  4. Revealing the truth destroys a person’s credibility? In a small town conflict is virtually impossible to avoid?

    Herb, perhaps you should be ashamed. Was the slogan of “It’s time for a change. It’s time for Open and Honest Government” just a little white lie? At the very least Frank should have told the public that Mr. Naylor was his campaign treasurer BEFORE voting to eliminate Naylor’s competition. Then the fine folks of this small town could have decided for themselves if a conflict of interest existed and if it should be tolerated.

    Yinn, you go girl. It is time for a change and the time is now for the citizenry to demand open and honest government as policy and not as lip service. I applaud your courage as a whistleblower and am indebted to you for speaking up. Your efforts will make a difference. You are helping us turn the page towards making the Information Age work for positive change.

  5. Not knocking Yinn. What I’m knocking is presenting part of a picture and then attributing motivation to it. Mac you and I used to fight with some people discounting you because you worked for the developers and me as some sort of pointy eared academic. Then you and I had factually based discourse on the matter, pros, cons, costs, benefits of impact fees. That’s the sort of discourse I’m trying to encourage.

    I do stand by my admittedly overstated comments that in a small town conflict is impossible to avoid, hard is a better word.

    When you and I fight on developers fees, do we both always have to announce we’re allies on affordable housing, or vice versa.?

    Any business person who is engaged in local businesses and uses other local businesses and then ends up in a public or a quasi-public position can be seen as in conflict. Now to be clear: these people are NOT in conflict but the appearance is there: Developers/builders serve on facilities planning boards, bankers on economic development boards. There simply aren’t enough people willing to work as volunteers so that everyone seems pristine.

    I guess I’m upset that Yinn raises older issues, rather than focusing on the major concerns that face the community in terms of giving defnition to what we are and want to be.


  6. Herb,
    What? Was this mentioned at the time? If you can show me where it was reported that the mayor said something about his relationship with Mr. Naylor at the time and no one thought it was a big deal, you let me know and I will delete this post. It’s not an old issue to me. Furthermore, this blog was started in response to conflicts of interest: DCEDC with I-39 Logistics Corridor, and the then-publisher of the Chronicle with DCEDC. Conflict of interest is what we “do.”

  7. Unfortunately an older issue of this nature becomes relevant now–only because the Mayor didn’t recuse himself. Just because a questionable choice was made in the past doesn’t mean it’s not relavant now. “Focusing on the major concerns that face the community in terms of giving definition to what we are and want to be.” It seems the choice made by our mayor on this issue relates directly to a major concern of honesty and transparency in our local administration now. I also feel it relates directly to what I would want our city administration “to be.”

    I do agree with you on the issue of avoiding conflict on the local level…I’d say it is very hard to avoid.

    Thanks Yinn for bringing this forward. I another can opened!

  8. Let me concede just for the point of discussion that it would have been better if the mayor recused himself. Okay. Now what?

    My focus is always on what can be done now to improve the present situation. At elections, yes, you do look at past records, but between elections you work on issues. There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies simply issues.

    Do I ignore your comments on the warehouse since you live in a place that might be impacted? Do you ignore my comments on the sanitary district since my neighborhood gets backups?

    And, what is the limit. Early on in my plan commission stay I always asked for bike paths in developments (I bike, though rarely in the city usually in the country). Thereafter developers came in with proposals that all had bike paths. Should I have recused myself from those issues because I’m a biking advocate? Or do we build on those issues to think about local transportation. As chair of the EDC I have recused myself from commercial projects that might have affordable housing components as I am advocate for the latter.

    Yes, I’m about openness, been always that way. But I am not about character attacks that do not lead to better policy. I just re read the third volume of the wonderful biography of Martin luther King jr, seen in the light of the Johnson era. He cheated on his wife all the time. Now does that mean I a monogamous human being discount his wonderful actions, or do I focus on his contributions and work in civil rights and economic justice. Yes, you do want to hold peoples’ feet to the fire on personal issues of integrity but not to the extent that you forget the policy actions.


  9. The POTENTIAL of conflict of interest is impossible to avoid. Recuse is the most effective tool to avoid that potential from turning into reality. Disclosure minimizes public perception of the potential of the violation of their trust.

  10. Mac and I are converging. Disclosure certainly but at times recusing is difficult. While trying to write the code of ethics for the EDC, I wrestled with how do local business people all of whom have interests in what we do handle the matter. We opted for recusing if the interest was direct, disclosure at all times, and mutual consultation when in doubt.

    If recusal was required on many issues I might have been the only one allowed to vote, as I have no local business interests and having that sort of vote would have been quite silly.

    Yes disclosure is vital, but when blogs spend most of their time on personal attacks (and both your blog and Yinn’s are far cleaner on this than other blogs) cf. the sniping on the chronicles’s anonymous posts, issues and policies get shunted aside in the politics of personality.


  11. I make a distinction between the people I vote for and the people I don’t in that I expect way more from the people I vote for.

    There is no doubt in my mind that recusal was called for in this case, but if that somehow wasn’t possible then full disclosure was the minimum acceptable course of action. It is the mayor’s fault that this isn’t water under a Kishwaukee bridge by now.

    For someone on a city commission, full disclosure is usually sufficient & it sounds like the EDC has nailed it in its code of ethics. FWIW, I developed a code of ethics for an organization this year and it’s still very fresh. Also, as a member of a city commission myself I’ve consulted with other members to balance my right to speak out with the responsibility of full disclosure.

    I do not write about this stuff just to attack people. I write about it to air out the place (which we seem to be doing here) in hopes that our expectations concerning the conduct of our elected officials become clear where it matters.

  12. Okay,
    I’ve called attention to this thread to various elected officials as I feel its content is important. Yinn, did you make sure the Mayor saw this thread. I did as it does contain important advice. But as I wrote to the paper talking and complaining without public appearance and action is not enough. Now Yinn does the full 9 yards in political stuff, praise to her. But talking to ourselves is not enough. Remember on the Wogen stuff I was the first to go on the record showing concern while dozens complained on blogs.

    Awareness is vital, but without follow up action little is accomplished. Yinn, don’t get me wrong. Your awareness and action are commendible. The past does sensitize people to the future but in politics it is almost always what one is doing now that counts.


  13. Thank you, Yinn for bringing this issue into the light, and for your even handed presentation of the facts. Being that I am not obliged by the rules of journalism or politics, I can say what most of you feel would appear as biased:

    I believe the reason the Mayor did not recuse himself is that he did not want his relationship to Mr. Naylor brought under scrutiny, just as he was not forthcoming about his relationship to Mr. Rey, the man who acted as a “concerned citizen” and contested my petition. (Mr. Rey was working for Mr. Mayor as well) In addition, Mr. Van Buer made his desire to remove me from the race perfectly clear through his refusal to acknowledge his discretion in the matter of my petition, despite a very compelling argument from Mr. Kapitan.

    The Mayor and I were not strangers. He had just recently sent me a letter asking me not to write any more letters to the Chronicle, or it would undo all the things he was trying to accomplish, (for instance, removing the only viable parking in the downtown). I did write more, and I know this was not an action that would endear me to him.

    There is much more going on here in the confines of the current administration than this one issue, and I am absolutely confident that it will become much clearer in the months ahead what quiet bedrooms have been unioned. Luckily, I will not be an active part of this revelation, any more than any one of the thousands of disenfranchaised citizens of DeKalb.

    Gavin Wilson

  14. Hi Gavin, glad you stopped by. Interesting comment. Beyond interesting.

    I see that Mac picked this up, too, and he has a poll on the issue as well.

    Herb, I don’t know what to say to you except that I choose my actions, time and place and they are not always going to be the same as yours.

  15. Yinn,
    Your choice and you do good, no problem here. (My very approach to people such as yourself is hurray for your involvment, disagree with you when I do, and form alliances when we agree and work to bring about whaterver it is we agree upon).

    I think I just react against anything that creates cynicism about politics, though I’m certainly aware of the downsides of politics. Balance is needed between keeping politicians feet at the fire, or whatever the saying is, and just making people feel that nothing matters and nothing counts.

    To participate people need hope and the belief that success is possible and I fear that endlesss mudraking weakens that hope; yet, searching for what is wrong is necessary. It is the balance that causes me concern.

    You and I are both aware that we probably moved the city on the openness dimension. We have before the city serious concerns about downtown, business attraction, liquor, growth, the narrower issues of housing affordability (honesty here, I’m an advocate in that area) and unstated but real the evolving ethnic and social compositon of the city. None of these issues are easy. If I were Czar I won’t know how to solve most. Participation of many are needed to resolve these issues and making people feel politics is dirty deprives us of the brain power needed to work out what are hard problems.

    I guess my bottom line is yes, point out things that are wrong, and make them right, but try to do so in ways that show people the possibilities for involvement and the rewards that come from such involvement.

    We all have our separate issues — I usually keep away from liquor licensing issues, but try to stay involved in all economic development and development issues. For the most part I’ve avoided the horses, pay close attention to water issues. But I’m always preaching the possibility that through involvement change can be made. ‘

    More, (and now I’ll be vague intentionally). There were two political figures whose propriety I seriously doubted (not necessarily in our city government but in local government). After years of persistence with one, and then after some real luck with the other, both made policy changes for which I (along with many others) had been pressing. Neither campaign involved any character assassination (at least other than very private personal conversations).

    The honesty you push for is vital in government. But so is the hope that action can count.


  16. I understand that some are having problems leaving comments here. If you have never before contributed a comment, it is held in moderation until I can get to it. Once I’ve determined it’s civil and let it through, your subsequent comments should show up immediately.

    After that, comments are also subject to editing, although the only editing I have done to comments is to change my real name to my blogging name. I realize that the vast majority of readers already know who I am. That is fine with me; I only use a screen name to make things a tad inconvenient for the odd Googler/stalker. Having been stalked in the past, I’m sure y’all can understand and respect my wish to use my screen name here.

    Thank you.

  17. Probably this should be another thread, but it was stimulated by Yinn’s 1104 post.

    I sent the following letter to the Chronicle and it came out today;


    To the editor,

    I continue to enjoy the reader commentaries to the articles, editorial and letters. But I’m beginning to think that the anonymity encourages shouting and name calling rather than a more deliberative response to what others think and say on the issues.

    As an individual who is often involved in public debate, I do spend more time thinking about what I am going to say when I am picturing addressing a named human being who also has strong feelings and thoughts on the issues.

    Public argument is exciting, even exhilarating and we can all learn from it. But public shouting to unnamed strangers does little other than to cause laryngitis.

    Let’s use real names in the on-line discussions

  18. To Mr. Rubin’s earlier reply..the statement:”I fear that endless muckraking weakens that hope.”

    I say it can for some…however for others it will strenghen hope. For some when they see that truth is being brought out it stimulates hope. A hope that good will triumph in the end. Not to sound too much like a Frank Capra movie…but I was raised with those movies…and some of my heros have been muckrakers…I do believe though, the truth must come out and in the end the truth usually finds its way out sooner or later.

    I also believe it is the “can openers” as Yinn once said in another thread… that provide hope that more will choose honesty when they see others exposed for their dishonesty.

    I agree with you that it is vital to provide an avenue to hope. As William Faulkner said in his nobel prize address:” The poet’s (in this case journalist) voice need not merely be a record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” And we all need hope to prevail.

  19. “Sunshine is the best of disinfectants.”~Louis Brandeis

    Cynicism is caused by the misconduct of our elected officials. Blaming me for posting these errors here is a riff on the “kill the messenger” theme.

    So far, attempts have been made to shame me, tell me that I’m living in the past, suggest that Wilson wasn’t that great a candidate anyway, or imply that this forum is illegitimate. Also I’m receiving e-mails from people who won’t post here but who are trying to convince me that Van Buer’s decision was not politically motivated.

    You know what? I like the mayor and I think it’s quite possible that the decision was not politically motivated. But there was an error of omission that casts it in doubt. It was an ethical misstep that I dearly hope has not been/will not be repeated.

  20. I don’t disagree with Treesfieldsksy so long as the next step is taken. You’ve exposed a problem, now you fix it and by fixing it lead to better public decisions.

    The people on this blog already have taken the first crucial step to involvement by, well being involved. You are involved and of those whose names I know, each has worked to change policy. That’s wonderful. I work with and advocate for the poor, who vote less, who register less, and more or less have given up hope. It is these folk, as well as many more middle class people who don’t participate, who use scandal as an excuse not be involved. That’s why I have problems with muckraking for its own sake, rather than as a prelude to policy change.

    Let me go back to the ‘next step argument’. Wogen Watch beats up on Wogen. Now if the watch stopped there I wouldn’t pay it much attention. But it is also pressuring Wogen to live up to his promises to take actions to improve the third? ward. That’s the next step. I guess my challenge is, once problems are pointed out what do you do next (at least before the next election.)

    Example: through exposes (of which I was a behind the scenes player) a former mayor whose name I won’t mention but who was male, was caught by the local paper as making economic development deals behind the scenes. As a direct consequence of that muckraking, the city moved towards establishing both openness and regularity in how incentives are given, improving (though not enough) the cost-benefit analyses done, and building in ‘clawbacks.’. That’s taking scandal and pushing for openness as the first step and extending it into better policy. (Note I say better, there is still room for improvement and full disclosure I was part of both the muckraking and the policy change process)

    Yinn mentioned the sanitary district incentives. I totally agree with her that the initial developer shall we say dissimulated. I happen to think the incentives when applied to tax generating, but non baby generating projects, help the school district so support them (but recognize the other argument also makes sense; it is a tough call brought about because of the stupidity in the way in which we fund education). So we took the same scandal that Yinn mentioned, and are working out a way of regularizing the incentives so that they are applied only under specified circumstances and not behind the door. Reasonably people can disagree on the yes or no of the incentives, but what I’m arguing is that secrecy turned into openness that is then moved to regularized policy.

    Noting problems is important, but then, taking the palliative actions becomes vital. If no such actions are possible because the problem is one of personal failings, or the horrible thinges done during the third ward campaign, I feel you note the problems, remember them come election time and vote the person out of office, but until then work with anyone to bring about your policy agenda.

    Full disclosure: One of my books is entitled Renewing Hope (about community developers. its been praised, I’m bragging, but also criticized for being too optimistic, intentionally so.)


  21. Yinn,
    Sorry that people are flaming you for raising the issue. Messengers are important (I started a protest/scandal/chit chat list at NIU) that infuriated the powers that be. Upper administration discussed shutting it down, until someone pointed out doing so would publicize the list, plus I could easily move it to a computer at another university. Yes, sunlight is vital and messengers are crucial..

    Feel free to call me Yinn, if you want my take on the disqualifying issue. I haven’t posted on it, since to me once your opinions are expressed on it, that is sufficient. Reasonable paople could disagree with Frank on his decision and reasonable people could agree. But now what: Frank’s pushed for Renew, has changed format of the council meetings, is slowly working to do something about bars and alcohol licensing (that’s really complicated), did the smoking thing. These are all policy issues on which people agree and disagree and to me that’s where the argumentation now should be.

    Again, sorry to hear that people are beating up on the messenger. I’ve spent my adult life as a messenger and have learned to either ignore the punches or to turn them around to initiated policy discussions.

    Perhaps you could come up with some ideas on what constitutes ‘conflict’ beyond the obvious financial ones. That’s a real problem. I’m almost never in a position to make a final decision (that’s intentional, being somewhat of outsider allows you freedom). But goodness gracious the sheer number of folk from different parties, factions etc. that I’ve worked with on different issues. I can’t imagine recusing myself from decisions involving most of them (some I would, as I would with close friends)
    But goodness gracous I’ve worked with mainstream people from the other party on local elections; only to find myself writing policy papers for their opponents during the next less local elections. (An aside: in city politics I feel party is really, really irrelevant. I wish it were also in County, but state mandates partisan elections there, a mistake)

    I’m rambling: What I’m saying is your challenge is to work out language that specifies what entails conflict beyond the obvious having vested financial interests (that’s already illegal by state law).

    I’m going to try not to post for a while. I mean I’ve complained about lack of affordable housing, drafted a report on the matter and am now trying to rewrite it to satisfy all sorts of divergent responses, and am probably posting on this blog as an excuse to avoid writing the report that will eventually lead to policy changes

  22. I voted for Vic Wogen. I felt betrayed. I let that be known. Yinn voted for Frank. She felt betrayed. She let that be known. treefieldsky’s eloquent post is also dead on the mark: there is great hope that truth is being brought out and that good will triumph in the end.

    It is ludicrous to the point of insulting the intelligence of others for anyone to suggest that there was no political motivation involved. It may or may not have been calculated or deliberate. That is not the point. Public trust was violated when Mr. Naylor did not disclose that he was Frank’s campaign treasurer, when Mr. Rey did not disclose that he was a contributor and volunteer to Frank’s campaign and when Frank did not recuse or at least disclose that a conflict of interest potentially existed.

    Herb suggests follow up action and appears to advise that a VanBuerWatch blog be published as that course. He also appears to have blinders on as he refers to the former mayor with the word scandal and the 3rd ward campaign as horrible yet as a contributor and volunteer to Frank’s campaign he thinks we should just move on from this little mistake. Foul, but no harm, because Frank is one of the goodfellas.

    My desired course of action is for Wogen to resign because he simply cannot prove that he did not violate public trust. Ditto Frank. Great hope would be created in the message that DeKalb does not tolerate such behavior. Both gentlemen would exhibit the kind of leadership that is required for change to happen.

    Another course of action would be to write a formal letter of complaint to the State Board of Elections and the Illinois Attorney General’s office that would officially register the actions and query whether or not laws were broken.

    Gavin Wilson was disqualified, not because he failed to follow the letter of the law, as some suggest, but because he didn’t follow the spirit of the law, as yinn illustrated. He did not date and name the office sought on each page of his petition. That same spirit of the law calls for full disclosure of the potential for conflict of interest and the use of recusal to not allow potential from becoming reality.

  23. Mac,
    Why didn’t Gavin appeal? I assumed he would, because even though he was technically in violation of the law with lack of dates and names (I disagree with your framing here), an appeal might have succeeded and really didn’t look all that hard to do. (Full disclosure I voted for and worked for Frank’s election, helped do some writing for the campaign, contributed, but if you had asked me who was treasurer would not have known.) More though I heard through rumors about the Gavin and violation stuff I wasn’t in the loop on this one and was actually surprised when the official case began.

    However, under your standards I guess now everytime I defend economic development incentives I have to preface my defense with saying I work closely with Mac on other issues so perhaps you should forget what I have to say. And, I’m only half being facetious. In my official capacity on EDC I have testified on development stuff and do wonder how much the developers cooperation with affordable housing impacts my views. I don’t think so, but who knows.

    Oh, perhaps you should in this atmosphere of total openness mention the numerous issues with which you (quite legitimately as a citizen) disagree with Frank.


    I actually did write on the housing report in between posts

  24. Once more (and you either get it or you don’t; this is my last comment to you here): There is a difference between people who are ELECTED to office and those who aren’t.

    Could be that Gavin did not appeal because he did not know about the Van Buer-Naylor connection–might that have been a bombshell at the time?–only about the Van Buer-Rey one, which might have been enough in itself to disgust him right out of the process. I don’t know, though; I’d have to ask.

  25. “I guess now everytime I defend economic development incentives I have to preface my defense with saying I work closely with Mac on other issues so perhaps you should forget what I have to say.”

    Herb, I thought I was a legend only in my own mind, now I’m going to have to trim my beard and everything. Thanks for admitting you know me. :-)

    “Oh, perhaps you should in this atmosphere of total openness mention the numerous issues with which you (quite legitimately as a citizen) disagree with Frank.”

    OK, here’s my shocking revelation: I am opposed to impact fees and I resent your forcing me to tell my secret to the public. Other than that I’ve publicly supported the Mayor on issues we agree on, such as downtown revitalization. That being said, the city was done a disservice when Mr. Wilson was disqualified because his platform, while supporting revitalization, did not match the Mayor’s. I wasn’t sure local government was the best place for smoking ban legislation (I stated that here on CityBarbs) but I supported the State ban. I fully support the Mayor’s promise for Open and Honest Government and with or without your permission I’m going to hold him to it.

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