Race for Winnebago County Sheriff: Which ‘Good Ol’ Boys Club’ do you want? Or none at all?

Gary Caruana (left) and Bob Springer.
Gary Caruana (left) and Bob Springer

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

One could assert: “How exactly does 26 years of guarding packages at the UPS cargo facility at Chicago Rockford International Airport in Rockford — with no power to arrest and no law enforcement experience since the 1980s — qualify one to serve as Winnebago County sheriff? It doesn’t.”

One could also assert: ” Three decades of experience in the Sheriff’s Department does not insure good leadership or good decision making.”

The “Good Ol’ Boys Club” is alive and well in this race, on both sides. With more than 30 years of law enforcement experience with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, Bob Springer is a member of the old guard of former sheriffs Donald Gasparini and Dick Meyers. However, the other elements of Good Ol’ Boys Club have been donating heavily to the campaign of Springer’s opponent, Gary Caruana.

Caruana, 57, of Rockford, served 26 years as area security manager at United Parcel Service (UPS), largely at Chicago Rockford International Airport’s UPS cargo facility, retiring about one year ago. He also served as a Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputy for eight years in the 1980s.

Following is a sampling of donations made to Caruana’s campaign: $5,000 from Robert R. Funderburg Jr., CEO of Alpine Bank of Rockford; $1,000 from Gerlando Galluzzo, attorney with Nicolosi & Associates LLC; $4,000 from Kelley Williamson Corp.; $250 from former U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo; $2,500 from Metrology Resource Group (Rock Valley College Board of Trustees member Patrick Murphy is president of this company); $1,000 from Paul Nicolosi, attorney at Nicolosi & Associates LLC; and $5,000 from Rockford Anesthesiologists Associated, LLC (W. Stephen Minore, M.D., president/CEO). Click here for more: http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/10/22/caruana-outpacing-springer-in-money-race-for-sheriff/

In addition to the donations from many Good Ol’ Boys Club members, Caruana has also had longtime Republican campaign wonk Jim Thacker as his campaign manager. Thacker has also managed the campaigns of Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) and Manzullo, among others.

Put simply, Caruana is backed by the Good Ol’ Boys Club, too.

The following is a sampling of donations made to Springer’s campaign: $1,000 from Maggio Truck Center; $1,000 North Central Illinois Laborers’ PAC; $1,000 Illinois Licensed Beverage  Association; $200 from Sunil Puri; $800 from Disabato Advisors, LLC (Chicago); $500 from Fidelity Mortgage, Inc., $500 from Goldberg, Weisman & Cairo, LTD (Chicago), $200 from  Benefits Management Group (Oak Brook); $200 from National Investment Services, Inc. (Milwaukee); $200 from Strategic Capital Investment Advisors, Inc. (Lombard); $200 from TFBC LLC (Oak Brook Terrace); more than $20,000 from various construction labor unions; and $7,895.30 from Citizens for Sheriff Meyers. Click here for more: http://www.elections.il.gov/campaigndisclosure/CandidateDetail.aspx?ID=28199.

Springer’s campaign, as noted, has largely been funded by donations from various unions–yes, another division of the Good Ol’ Boys Club. Also note, the out-of-town contributions from investment firms. The sheriff’s department controls a considerable amount of money. Springer, 56, of Durand, Illinois, has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, mostly with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, where he began as corrections officer in the jail and worked his way through the ranks to deputy chief. He retired from the Sheriff’s Department five years ago. The contribution from soon-to-be former Sheriff Meyers reflects his commitment and Don Gasparini’s commitment to Springer. If Springer is elected, look for Garsparini’s son to be promoted. If Springer is elected, look for nepotism and favoritism to continue to be the standard for promotion in the Sheriff’s Department.

Then consider the dissatisfaction of the Rock River Homeowners Association and many boaters on the Rock River with how Sheriff Meyers has handled issues on the Rock River. If Springer is elected, look for the same dismal policies to continue that have ruined the boating economy on the Rock River. If Caurana is elected, he says he will change the dismal policies.

Both candidates in this race have been at the center of their own controversy. Caruana was appointed by Morrissey to the Rockford Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, which is reviewing a complaint filed by the Rockford police union against Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson. The police union sponsored Caruana in Rockford’s Labor Day Parade. His campaign also accepted $475 in contributions from the union’s president, Terrance Peterson. As pointed out by “Meet John Doe” columnist Paul Gorski in his Oct. 22-28 column, Caruana’s acceptance of the union’s support represents a conflict of interest. Springer and Caruana both have tremendous conflicts with any union considerations. Springer’s are probably paybacks for Meyer’s erecting the overbuilt and still-empty jail known as “The Justice Center.”

Springer has had his share of controversy. In April, The Rock River Times reported that “According to sources, Springer occupies an office inside the Winnebago County Justice Center, where he is reportedly running his campaign. The office was reportedly closed as Springer campaigned for the primary March 18, when he won 42 percent of the vote against Randy Olson, Jeffrey Schroeder, Glenn Heidenreich and Bob Redmond.

“After winning the primary, Springer re-opened the office and maintains access to the county’s e-mail and security card systems, sources close to the situation said.

“During the initial attempt to contact Springer, a switchboard operator confirmed the 34-year law enforcement veteran maintains an office in the building. Calls to the office’s direct line were met with an outgoing voicemail message that states: ‘This is Deputy Chief Bob Springer. I’m not in the office right now.’

“County e-mail, a direct phone line and a security card granting access to areas of the Winnebago County Justice Center, including the jail, are necessities reserved for employees. Springer retired from the sheriff’s office five years ago. He then became a regional coordinator for the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), the agency that assists other police agencies during emergencies throughout the country.

“Insiders say Springer used the justice center office as an ILEAS headquarters before retiring from the agency. He is now a volunteer — with the same security clearance and system access — for the department, and maintains an office in the building, raising questions about possible infractions, specified in the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (5 ILCS 430/5-35).”

Machesney Park Trustee James Kidd also recently raised questions about whether Springer should have been allowed to use the Machesney Park town hall and parking lot in his campaign commercial.

None of these controversies has resulted in any infractions against either candidate and, accordingly, none of these controversies should decide this race.

Ultimately, Caruana is too closely tied with Rockford Mayor Morrissey and the Good Ol’ Boys Club to warrant an endorsement. Caruana also lacks the direct experience required of the position, but he has managed very large security forces–and importantly, he says he will make promotion on a “merit-based” system.

Springer has three decades of experience with the Sheriff’s Department and has a very large share of Good Ol’ Boys influence from those three decades. He is also a reportedly kind and down-to-earth person, as is Caruana. However, various associations of both men leave this editor and publisher, Frank Schier, very uncomfortable with endorsing either of them. Initially, I was very inclined towards Caruana, but his campaign contributions have told me another story.

Assistant Editor Brandon Reid wants to endorse Springer. Jim Hagerty passed. I cannot endorse either candidate in all good conscience. This race really shows what is wrong with our current system of campaign finance and who really runs Winnebago County. Reid argues it is “stupid” to not endorse in this race, saying readers/voters deserve our recommendation. When any choice is unclear, it is wise to wait before any kind of commitment. I will not gamble with your vote.

Our readers have quite a bit of information to be considered from this editorial. If you decide to go with the “Undervote” of not choosing a candidate in this race, I think that is wise, and we’ll see how the winner performs. Otherwise, consider what has been presented here, and make your choice. This choice is ultimately yours, anyway.

Senior Assistant Editor Brandon Reid contributed largely to this editorial.

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