Today the Chicago-Tribune published an investigative report about Rosemont and the family that runs it.

It’s a story about how the Stephens family has amassed riches and tremendous political clout.

Most of all, however, it is a story about Home Rule.

Illinois Home Rule allows:

  • unlimited borrowing

  • the option to forgo competitive bidding on contracts

  • unprecedented levels of nepotism and other ethical lapses

And no, this isn’t just about the folks in Rosemont. Other Illinois taxpayers are on the hook for Rosemont ventures with $7 million in taxi tax earmarks and subsidies annually, while the villagers enjoy grants of up to $3,000 each.

Yesterday there was a lot of news coverage about Chicago’s forecast inability to finish its planned Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects now that property tax revenues are down.

Coincidentally, I’ve been peering at DeKalb TIF funds recently, looking for the same kind of trouble.

Fund 63 is the DeKalb TIF fund that pays for development and development services in the Central Area AKA Downtown TIF or TIF 1. Fund 225 is the fund for TIF debt service. We’ll look at both of them today. Read the rest of this entry

Eric Zorn poses a question on this Sun-Times story in his blog:

The Sun-Times story on the rocky negotiations between the city and the firefighters union notes that one area of contention is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal that only firefighters who work on holidays be awarded holiday pay:

Former union president Bill Kugelman (said)…“ Holiday pay would go only to those who work the actual day. We fought for everybody to get it. … This is all anti-union stuff.”

When I’ve previously brought up seemingly odd provisions in labor contracts, one response has been, “Yes, it sounds strange, but it was almost certainly thrown in as part of the overall bargain,” meaning that the public has no more right to raise an eyebrow at this than at a wage level or a provision that awards bonuses to everyone who has at least one vowel in his or her name.

Still, as a matter of public relations, shouldn’t both union and management strive for contract provisions that actually make sense to the average person?

[sound of guffaws] Read the rest of this entry

Apparently this became a story when an employee of the Better Government Association looked up a salary at Open the Books, an online database of Illinois public employee and government financial information. Open the Books is a project of For the Good of Illinois, a good-government organization founded by former gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski. Vive la transperance!

Anywhoo, the Lyons Township Schools Treasurer’s Office “invests funds and manages payroll for 13 school districts and educational cooperatives in La Grange, Western Springs and Burr Ridge, as well as other towns,” explains the Sun Times.

The office is run by Treasurer Robert Healy. It has come to light that Mr. Healy took it upon himself to cash out his accumulated paid leave, and the total paid to himself came to more than $100,000.

The sum, along with Mr. Healy’s failure to inform the board of the payment, reportedly upset Edward Maloney, the president of the three-member board of trustees that oversees Mr. Healy’s office. Maloney, who coincidentally is running for a judgeship in Cook County, has since resigned “to allow for an independent investigation” of the cash-out that will determine whether Healy was entitled to such an accrual and whether he computed the total accurately.

“I don’t know if he did anything wrong or not,” Maloney said. “I felt very upset he did this without telling us. We don’t know if the hours he turned in were justified or not and what scale is he paying himself at. Were there vacation days earned in 2007 paid at a 2011 rate?”

I believe the answer to that would be, “DUH.” Read the rest of this entry

From the Buffalo Grove Patch publication:

[Activist and Buffalo Grove resident Rob] Sherman alleges that the [Indian Trails Public Library] illegally used tax revenue to promote the referendum. Voters on Tuesday will decide whether the library’s improvement plans warrant an increase in the district’s tax levy.
[...]

Governing bodies such as library and school districts can disseminate factual information about elections, but are prohibited from telling voters how to cast their ballots.

Library officials say that a successful referendum would not have a financial impact on taxpayers, as the increased levy would be adopted as bond debt is retired. Sherman said that the library’s recent mailing, which uses green text that proclaims “GROW YOUR LIBRARY … Not Your Tax Bill,” goes beyond providing the facts.

I’ve heard questionable statements made by units of government locally in these cases. For example, one or two City of DeKalb aldermen goofed when they tried to request residents get out and vote on the District 428 construction referendum two years ago and actually said to vote FOR it.

So maybe the only unit of government that should be disseminating information on ballot initiatives and other election issues is the Office of the County Clerk.

Sherman himself is running for Village Clerk. Here is his home page.

Here is the Indian Trails Public Library website.

TIF Protest in Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times: “Anti-TIF marchers demand $4M from N. Side auto dealer”:

About 150 teachers, parents and activists marched into the Grossinger City Autoplex and demanded a check for $4 million Saturday.

That would be the “TIF” money — protestors called it “The Mayor’s Slush Fund” — diverted from the public schools and given to developers such as those who built the autoplex. Read the rest of this entry

Underfunded Pensions in Chicago

Hinz at Crain’s:

The City of Chicago and related local governments like the Chicago Park District collectively under-funded their worker pension plans by $5.1 billion in the past decade, according to a new report by the Civic Federation.

As a result, the retirement plans now have as little as 36.5% of the assets needed to pay promised benefits, the taxpayer watchdog group says. [...]

The report reviews the status of 10 pension funds — those covering workers for the city, Chicago Transit Authority, Cook County, Chicago Public Schools, Water Reclamation District and the Chicago Park District — in the decade that ended in fiscal 2009.

Yowza.

In the Sun-Times this a.m.:

A top aide to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was arrested Monday and charged in a criminal probe of county no-bid contracts, including one allegedly steered to the staffer’s privately owned public relations firm, authorities said.

“It’s in connection with the ongoing financial crimes investigation conducted by the state’s attorney’s office into the awarding of so-called 24-9 contracts,” [Cook County State's Attorney spokesperson Sally Daly] said.

The “24-9″ reference is to contracts that fall below the $25,000 mark, the threshold requiring approval by the Cook County Board.

You know, kind of like DeKalb’s “19-5s,” which refer to contracts that fall beneath the city manager’s $20,000 threshold at which he must seek approval from the city council. But in DeKalb, it doesn’t matter who gets the business, not even if it’s an alderman. At least Cook County sees justice every once in awhile.

[H/T J.D.]

Cook County Transparency

Did you read the title twice? It’s certainly something for the “strange but true” column: Cook County as potential role model for DeKalb County. Cook County Commissioner Tony Paraica is now hosting a website called CookEmployees.com. All 25,000-plus Cook County employees are listed by name, title, department, salary and hire date in a database that is searchable alphabetically or by department or salary range.