By Paul Gorski
Questionable ethics and the good old boys network are alive and well this election season. Gary Caruana is the Republican candidate for Winnebago County Sheriff, and as many candidates do, he walked in Rockford’s Labor Day Parade this past September. Political candidates must be sponsored by a union to walk in the parade, and the Rockford police union sponsored Caruana. My concerns start here.
Caruana serves on Rockford’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. This board is reviewing a complaint against Rockford Police Chief Epperson, a complaint filed by the police union. The union is well within its rights to file a complaint and to sponsor whomever it wants in the parade. However, Caruana should have declined the police union’s parade sponsorship while reviewing a case filed by the union to avoid any conflict of interest. Caruana could have found another union to sponsor him.
Compounding Caruana’s poor judgment, the police union president has contributed $475 to Caruana’s campaign. Again, the union and its members have done nothing wrong, but Caruana should have declined the contribution to stay clear of any conflict of interest. The conflict opens the police board decision up to a challenge. This would not be an issue if Caruana had resigned from the police board when he started his campaign.
If you were looking for a sheriff candidate who was free and clear from previous sheriffs Meyers and Gasparini, you will not find that candidate in this race. Friends tell me Caruana and Don Gasparini have been friends for years, and that while there is no money trail linking Gasparini to the Caruana campaign, Gasparini is likely helping his old friend out. Meyers has contributed to Bob Springer’s campaign — Springer is the Democratic candidate for sheriff.
I emphasize that I am only calling Caruana’s judgment into question. I am not questioning the motives of anyone else mentioned here. Had I been Caruana, I would not have accepted campaign help from a person or group that had filed an active complaint with the police board while sitting on that board. If Caruana does not understand how negatively the public perceives conflicts like these, how will he handle similar sensitive issues if elected sheriff?
Unions, union members, former sheriffs, and voters have every right to support the candidate of their choice. Candidates are responsible for avoiding conflicts of interest and managing public perception.
In the interest of fairness and disclosure, I will tell you that groups or people on both sides of this election have supported and opposed me in my past elections. Oh, the joy that is politics. Moreover, while I often question the ethics of elected officials, boards and councils, I am not accustomed to questioning law enforcement. I respect law enforcement too much and even considered it as a career. I envisioned myself as a forensic scientist long before the current crop of investigative police shows became popular.
Legislators will be legislators, but I want my criminal justice managers — the state’s attorney, sheriff, circuit clerk and coroner — to be on the up and up.
Paul Gorski (email@example.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.
From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue