Gov’t transparency watch: March 2015

By Shawn Tonge
Illinois Policy Institute

March 13 marked the start of Sunshine Week, a national event promoting open government policies and access to information. With two of the biggest corruption stories in March revolving around secrecy and unchecked spending, Illinois still have much room to improve on this front.

The College of DuPage, or COD, has become notorious for its problems with transparency in spending, but a new series of inquiries into the publicly funded school has further shown the need for more financial oversight.

An article by the Chicago Tribune revealed that COD President Robert Breuder and other administrators spent close to $190,000 in taxpayer money at a pricey campus restaurant over the last four years.

Another Tribune story took a look at no-bid contracts awarded by the college’s foundation board to politically connected vendors. They found that nearly half of the board members have financial interests in companies working with the college.

A lack of transparency also added to the controversy of the college’s $763,000 retirement package for Breuder. The board of trustees voted to approve the package in January, but they failed to release the details of the buyout to the public beforehand. Watchdog groups alleged that the vote violated Illinois laws on open meetings.

In response to the Tribune’s reports, state legislators drafted a resolution proposing a thorough financial audit of the college. The DuPage County state’s attorney’s office has begun looking into the college’s finances, issuing several grand jury subpoenas to the college.

The College of DuPage provides a good example of what happens when public officials and institutions aren’t held accountable for their actions. Abuses like these will keep happening if voters are denied information about how their money is being used.

 53. March 31, 2015

Daily Herald: Subpoenas seek years of COD records on Breuder, foundation board member

DuPage County prosecutors are seeking years of records concerning the spending and employment contract of College of DuPage President Robert Breuder, according to copies of grand jury subpoenas released Tuesday by the Glen Ellyn-based school.

The DuPage County state’s attorney’s office has issued three subpoenas to the college, two dated Feb. 5 and one dated March 19, concerning Breuder as well as a member of the COD Foundation board. Sources have said a separate subpoena was also issued to the college’s fundraising arm, the College of DuPage Foundation, but that one has since been withdrawn by the state’s attorney’s office.

52. March 31, 2015

CBS Chicago: Schock’s Staff To Face Tough Prosecutor In Spending Probe

Some of Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock’s current and previous employees will appear before a federal grand jury next month to answer questions about their old boss. When they do, they’ll likely face a prosecutor with a tough, meticulous reputation.

The choice to investigate Schock in central Illinois — rather than in Washington, home to his Capitol Hill office — could signify the probe reaches beyond the potential misuse of his congressional office and into his congressional district activities or hometown financial contributors.

51. March 30, 2015

Daily Herald: DuPage County prosecutors probing College of DuPage, charges appear unlikely

An investigation by the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office into spending at the College of DuPage is unlikely to result in any criminal charges, according to sources with knowledge of the probe.

But critics of the community college’s administration are questioning the objectivity of the state’s attorney’s investigation and already are calling for an independent probe to be done by federal authorities.

50. March 29, 2015

Chicago Sun-Times: United Working Families PAC leader filed false campaign report in Wisconsin

The leader of a new political action committee supporting mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was convicted in Wisconsin eight years ago for filing a false campaign finance report.

Garcia attended a rally Thursday night organized by the United Working Families Political Action Committee, whose leader is former Wisconsin political operative Kristen Crowell.

49. March 27, 2015

Chicago Tribune: College of DuPage gives foundation board member $630,000 in no-bid projects

Without receiving a single competitive bid, the College of DuPage has paid a member of its foundation board more than $630,000 to design and install signs for the school over the past four years — with much of the work made possible through a contract that references her experience as an architect.

Foundation board member Carla Burkhart is not an architect. Her company, Herricane Graphics, does not provide architectural services.

48. March 26, 2015

Better Government Association: Sanitary District Cop: ‘Everyone Here Is Sleeping’

Listen to an audio recording we obtained – after filing a lawsuit last month to get it – of a conversation earlier this year between an MWRD police officer and his colleague. The cop’s hand-held radio apparently was keyed “on” by mistake, and everything he said was broadcast over a State Police frequency and recorded.

Aside from spewing vulgar, sexist and racist vitriol, the officer relays just how little work he and many other MWRD employees actually do for taxpayers.

How much drinking and sleeping and hiding are done on the clock. How much politics plays into hiring and other job-related decisions.

47. March 26, 2015

Tribune: Inmates who allege police abuse by Burge may get hearing on innocence claims

“Girt” Burton was 21 when he alleged Chicago police detectives working under Cmdr. Jon Burge kept him in custody without charges for six days, beating him with a phone book, choking him until he passed out and torturing him until he finally confessed to a gang killing.

More than a quarter of a century later, Burton is still languishing in prison despite the infamy that has befallen Burge, who recently ended a federal prison sentence for lying about the torture of allegedly dozens of African-Americans.

But an unprecedented review by a Chicago law school dean has given hope to Burton and almost 20 other alleged Burge victims still in prison that they could receive another shot at a hearing into their claims of abuse. And more are still under review.

46. March 25, 2015

Tribune: Jesse Jackson Jr. to be released from prison to halfway house, friend says

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is being released from a federal prison Thursday and will move into a halfway house, according to a friend and former House colleague.

Jackson, a Democrat from Chicago’s South Side, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2013 after using about $750,000 in campaign cash on luxury goods, household items, vacations, celebrity memorabilia and other items.

45. March 24, 2015

Pantagraph: Editorial – State’s ‘revolving door’ of lobbyists needs to close

Just two months after leaving his job as Illinois Secretary of Agriculture, Bob Flider has registered as a lobbyist to influence officials in state government.

Flider, a former state representative, hasn’t done anything legally wrong. But it’s another example of why the “revolving door” in Illinois politics needs to be closed.

Flider isn’t the only former Quinn administration member to head for the lobbying ranks. Quinn chief of staff Jack Lavin has registered as a lobbyist as have Jay Curtis, former director of legislative affairs and Larry O’Brien, one of Quinn’s chief policy advisers. At least 38 former state lawmakers are registered lobbyists.

44. March 24, 2015

Chicago Business: TV-movie studio bows to Rauner’s demand to return $10 million

A Chicago TV and movie studio on the West Side is handing back $10 million to the state of Illinois one day after Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered the money’s return amid questions about how the grant was awarded.

The payment comes one day after Rauner ordered the return of the grant, which was set to expire June 30. The Chicago-Sun Times reported on March 21 that the money was handed over without any appraisals of the properties to be acquired or even contracts with the property owners.

43. March 23, 2015

Sun-Times: City accused of violating due process in red-light and speed camera ticketing

Cash-strapped Chicago should be forced to refund $600 million in red-light and speed camera tickets dating back to 2003 because it “skipped a step” and denied motorists due process, a lawsuit filed Monday argues.

Five months ago, attorney Jacie Zolna accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration of ignoring the ground rules established by the state before speed cameras were installed around schools and parks — by issuing thousands of tickets on “non-school days.”

42. March 22, 2015

State Journal-Register: Quinn gave film studio $10M to buy land that’s not for sale

After Gov. Pat Quinn lost the election in November to Bruce Rauner, the state of Illinois wrote a $10 million check to a movie studio to buy land on Chicago’s West Side that was not even for sale and has yet to be sold.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday that Cinespace Chicago Film Studios has cashed the check but has yet to use any of the money to buy land near the studio’s campus that it told state officials it needs to meet the “demand for educational space, job training facilities” and other uses. The owners of six properties listed on the studio’s grant application said they don’t plan to sell, with the owners of at least two of the properties telling the newspaper that they haven’t even been contacted by Cinespace.

41. March 22, 2015

Sun-Times: Chicago Police fighting to keep cellphone trackers secret

The Chicago Police Department is fighting to keep a lid on how, when and where officers have used covert cellphone tracking systems — with an outside law firm billing the city more than $120,000 to battle a lawsuit that seeks those secret details.

But privacy activists across the country have begun to question whether law enforcement agencies have used the devices to track people involved in demonstrations in violation of their constitutional rights. They also have concerns the technology scoops up the phone data of innocent citizens and police targets alike.

40. March 22, 2015

Sun-Times: New Schock mileage questions: How he got caught

A Chicago Sun-Times analysis of auto mileage reimbursements for scandalized Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., reveals he may have been inflating claims on not just one but two vehicles, starting in 2008, when he was first running for Congress.

The Sun-Times has calculated that since last month Schock has reimbursed taxpayers at least $127,590 – almost three-quarters of his annual salary — for his office redecoration, mileage and a charter flight to a Bears [game].

39. March 22, 2015

Sun-Times: Surf’s up for former Chicago Ridge police chief on disability

Last summer, former Chicago Ridge police chief Tim Baldermann sued the southwest suburb, claiming village officials wrongly slashed the amount of tax-free disability pay he gets for the on-the-job back injury that ended his police career.

This winter, despite the bad back that Baldermann says merits a six-figure disability pension, he grabbed a boogie board and rode stomach-side down on the waves off a beach in Queensland, Australia. A pair of photos that a friend posted on Facebook captured the moment.

38. March 21, 2015

Tribune: The mileage Rep. Aaron Schock billed for personal SUV adds to legal woes

But what is less known about Schock, and less publicly chronicled, is the number of miles supposedly racked up in the mundane task of driving his Chevrolet Tahoe, much of it presumably around his central Illinois district.

An analysis of government documents and Schock campaign finance records shows that from Jan. 1, 2010, through June 30, 2014, Schock was reimbursed by taxpayers and his political funds roughly $90,000 for putting about 171,000 miles on his personal vehicle.

37. March 21, 2015

The Southern Illinoisan: Prisoners allege abuse in lawsuit

Inmates held in four Illinois prisons are alleging they were sexually and physically abused by a special guard unit last year.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Illinois’ southern district, the prisoners claim they were beaten, humiliated and needlessly abused by a unit known as “Orange Crush.”

The incidents allegedly took place at Menard Correctional Center, Big Muddy Correctional Center, Lawrence Correctional Center and Illinois River Correctional Center.

36. March 20, 2015

Tribune: FBI investigating Schock’s expenses, begins issuing subpoenas

Federal investigators have opened a “preliminary investigation” into the activities of Rep. Aaron Schock, based primarily out of Springfield, a federal law enforcement official confirmed Friday.

“We will follow up on every allegation we pick up,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. The review will include an investigation of his expenses and campaign funds, the official said.

FBI agents have begun issuing subpoenas to potential witnesses, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Friday.

35. March 20, 2015

Tribune: College of DuPage trustees to investigate alcohol expenses

Trustees at the College of DuPage plan to investigate thousands of dollars in bills from embattled school President Robert Breuder and senior administrators for alcohol at a tony campus restaurant to determine whether they broke school policy, a sign of growing tension between the board and Breuder.

The Glen Ellyn-based community college this week disclosed that, according to its employee reimbursement policy, alcoholic beverages are among “unallowable business and travel expenses.” College attorney Respicio Vazquez said receipts from Waterleaf restaurant submitted by Breuder and top administrators will be evaluated to determine whether there were business purposes for the expenses.

34. March 20, 2015

Tribune: Chicago State president is accused of pushing fake claims of sex harassment

The president of Chicago State University tried to pressure a high-level administrator to file false claims of sexual harassment against an outspoken professor to help the college try to silence him, according to court documents filed Thursday as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

In a sworn statement, LaShondra Peebles, the college’s former interim vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said before she was fired that President Wayne Watson pushed her to accuse Phillip Beverly of sexual harassment, though Peebles said she was never harassed.

33. March 19, 2015

Better Government Association: Suburban School Official Sent To Prison For Theft

During more than 20 years as top administrator at the Lyons Township School Treasurer’s office, Robert Healy allegedly embezzled roughly $1.5 million from the tiny but deep-pocketed government agency, which helps fund public schools in the west suburbs and, at any given time, controls several hundred million dollars in taxpayer money.

On Wednesday, the 56-year-old Healy – whose family has long-standing ties to ex-Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Morgan Finley, imprisoned in the late 1980s for a bribery case – pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge and agreed to a nine-year prison term.

32. March 18, 2015

Chicago Reader: Chicago police are spying on citizens

At least one thing became clear last year during the trial of the so-called NATO Three: the Chicago Police Department spied on citizens exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

The three defendants were acquitted of terrorism but convicted of mob action and arson charges, an outcome that largely hinged on the testimony of two undercover Chicago police officers nicknamed “Mo” and “Gloves,” who had posed as radicals to infiltrate local activist groups. As prosecutors continued to defend the case in the aftermath of the trial, we wondered: Have the police been conducting surveillance on other protesters and activist organizations around town?

Since 2009 the Chicago Police Department has opened at least six investigations that involved spying on citizens, internal police records show. Four of the investigations were launched during the first term of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

31. March 18, 2015

Rock River Times: Sunshine Week – Lawmakers continue attacks on government transparency

Sadly, a budget subcommittee in Montana did just that recently when it took aim at the state political practices commissioner’s office — the office that educates candidates about how to lawfully campaign, and helps them understand the laws governing campaign finances and ethical expectations. The office that compiles campaign disclosure reports from hundreds of candidates each election cycle, and asks candidates to fill out forms properly and in a timely manner. The office that informs the press and public about who is funding the campaigns of the candidates who, if elected, will spend taxpayer money.

For doing this important job, for creating “some tremendous efficiencies,” as one committee member noted, the subcommittee voted to cut the in-house attorney who helped eliminate a case backlog, and reduce the salary of the commissioner by 23 percent. The vote was along party lines.

30. March 18, 2015

Sun-Times: Schock leaves Congress with $3.3 million in campaign funds and pension at 62

When scandalized Rep. Aaron Schock R-Ill., resigns from Congress at the end of the month, he will still control $3.3 million in political funds and be eligible for a federal pension when he is 62 – if he is not convicted of committing a crime during his time in the House.

Schock on Tuesday said he would step down on March 31, in the wake of a series of disclosures about his spending taxpayer and government funds and his real estate dealings.  Schock’s resignation comes as his legal and public relations team knew more grave revelations were coming and as the Sun-Times was conducting an investigation of his outsized mileage reimbursement claims.

29. March 18, 2015

DNAinfo: Alleged Police ‘Black Site’ in Homan Square to be Topic of Meeting in D.C.

A longtime congressman and a Cook County commissioner will meet with U.S. Justice Department officials Wednesday to discuss allegations of abuse at the Homan Square police station.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin will meet with a special assistant to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

28. March 18, 2015

Justice Department: Chicago Revenue Inspector Sentenced To 12 Months Probation For Extortion

A former Revenue Inspector for the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve to 12 months’ probation as a result of his conviction of extortion under color of official right.

ELIAS GARZA, 55, of Chicago pled guilty in February 2011 to a one-count information, admitting that while employed as a Revenue Inspector in 2009, he received money from a confidential source and an individual who controlled stores in Chicago that sold cigarettes.  Garza would, in return, provide advanced notification of upcoming City inspections of those stores that were designed to ensure proper payment of taxes on cigarettes.

27. March 17, 2015

Quad Cities Online: RICo school heads accused of illegal boost to sales tax

Top school officials in Rock Island County have been using public resources in breach of state statutes to support the campaign for a “yes” vote in the April 7 referendum on raising sales taxes for schools, according to a Springfield-based conservative group.

The Illinois Policy Institute obtained emails through Freedom of Information Act requests that appear to show the superintendents of the Riverdale and Rock Island/Milan school districts coordinating with a political action committee that’s supporting the tax increase.

26. March 17, 2015

Politico: Aaron Schock resigns after new questions about mileage expenses

Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock resigned Tuesday, less than 12 hours after POLITICO raised questions about tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements he received for his personal vehicle.

Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven.

25. March 17, 2015

Tribune: Donors had role in Aaron Schock’s 2014 property deal

A shell company linked to embattled Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock paid a political donor $300,000 last year for a commercial property in Peoria then took out a $600,000 mortgage for the property from a local bank run by other donors, Illinois state and county records show.

The newly disclosed arrangement follows similar Schock real estate deals detailed by a recent Associated Press investigation into the Illinois Republican’s business transactions involving political contributors over the past decade.

24. March 16, 2015

Kane County Chronicle: Our View – Transparency more important than ever

We as journalists are committed to playing a role in holding public officials accountable. It’s why we attend city council and school board meetings. It’s why we file Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about how taxpayer money is spent or ones we believe will detail the inner workings of local governments.

We also hope elected officials are partners committed to transparency. There is no need to take an adversarial position when it comes to openness – indeed, the public likely would embrace a politician who is consistently transparent. Officials can embrace laws about open meetings and records. They can decide not to grumble when FOIA requests are submitted, and realize the effort and time it takes to comply is worth the public trust doing so builds.

23. March 16, 2015

State Journal-Register: Our Opinion – FOIA appeal backlog indicative of larger secrecy problem

Madigan’s staff maintains that the office has cleared a combined 85 percent of FOIA and open-meetings appeals. Even so, the backlog is worrisome.

More troubling, however, is the willingness of governmental bodies to deny thousands of public information requests every year. That’s based only on what we know about appeals that land in front of the attorney general. Undoubtedly, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of improperly denied FOIA requests involving citizens who simply take no for an answer or have neither the time nor the inclination to appeal.

And every year, government’s predilection for secrecy is buoyed by Illinois lawmakers who propose laws that further would diminish citizens’ right to know what the government they fund is up to with their money.

22. March 16, 2015

Tribune: Experts – City Hall has the evidence to lengthen yellow light times

For nearly two years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has had strong evidence that Chicago’s yellow light times are too short for traffic conditions, thanks to a series of radar gun surveys the city conducted to support its speed camera program, the Tribune has found.

Nearly 20,000 drivers were clocked in the 168 spot surveys beginning in mid-2013, most traveling significantly faster than posted speed limits around the city. The previously undisclosed reports were obtained by the Tribune through a public records request.

21. March 15, 2015

Better Government Association: Local Pols, Fund Tied To Regulator

The St. Louis-based company, which owns four coal mines in southern and central Illinois, gave more than $2 million to Illinois politicians and campaigns since 2009, state records show.

One recent contribution caught our eye at the Better Government Association: A political committee controlled since 2013 by new Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Wayne Rosenthal registered a $2,000 contribution in February from Foresight, a company he now regulates. (Previously, Foresight gave political funds tied to Rosenthal almost $25,000 in recent years.)

20. March 15, 2015

Sun-Times: Illinois FOIA appeal process plagued by years-long backlog

After the scandal that sent former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison, lawmakers adopted a raft of reforms that included creating a referee to intervene when bureaucrats reject citizens’ requests for government records.

Five years later, the “public access counselor” in the attorney general’s office has yet to respond to more than 2,800 appeals of Freedom of Information Act requests for information that a government agency deemed secret, according to an analysis of records obtained by The Associated Press.

That’s about one in five of all FOIA appeals submitted to the office since the law took effect in 2010.

19. March 12, 2015

Sun-Times: BGA sues to get records in Koschman case

The Better Government Association filed suit Thursday seeking the release of subpoenas and other records in the David Koschman case.

The BGA filed the lawsuit in Cook County circuit court against Koschman special prosecutor Dan K. Webb and the city of Chicago, accusing them of violating the state’s open-records law by refusing to make public certain documents in the case involving a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

18. March 12, 2015

DNAinfo: Homan Square Station Not a ‘Black Site,’ But Probe Needed, Official Says

After a tour of the Homan Square Chicago Police station this week, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin said he still has only one objective: to get the truth.

Boykin’s tour of Homan Square came after a Guardian article published in February alleged the site is actually a secret detention facility.

Calling the article “inaccurate” and “misleading,” Chicago Police said in a statement that Homan Square is not a secret facility, and serves as home base for officers working undercover assignments.

17. March 11, 2015

Tribune: Prosecutors seeking 15-month sentence for alderman’s ex-chief of staff

Curtis Thompson Jr. wasn’t the first crooked public official to take a cash-stuffed envelope, and he likely won’t be the last. But in asking a federal judge to sentence Thompson next week to 15 months in prison, prosecutors hope his story will serve as a warning that the public has grown weary of day-to-day corruption.

Thompson, 63, was arrested in February 2014 after prosecutors alleged he had accepted the bribe at Brookins’ holiday party from an FBI mole posing as a young real estate developer who wanted to open a convenience store in the 21st Ward. He pleaded guilty in December to one count of bribery and faces up to a year and half behind bars under federal sentencing guidelines.

16. March 10, 2015

Better Government Association: Accused Of Raping Intern, Cop Still On Force

Forest Park cop was accused of sexually assaulting 19-year-old police intern but was never charged with a crime. Did authorities do enough to investigate the claims?

Forest Park’s municipal government settled the case last year, paying the woman nearly $650,000 and admitting no wrongdoing. The officer, Young Lee, remains on the west suburban force and wasn’t charged with any crime.

But a Better Government Association review found irregularities with how police and prosecutors handled the allegations – raising questions about whether they took the woman’s claims seriously enough or otherwise showed Lee favoritism.

15. March 10, 2015

Tribune: Independent monitors to assess Illinois residential treatment centers

In the latest step aimed at reforming Illinois’ troubled residential treatment centers, a federal judge on Tuesday agreed to allow independent monitors inside the facilities to evaluate the safety of the youths living in them and determine whether their needs are being met.

The move is part of an interim plan aimed at providing immediate assistance to the more than 1,000 juvenile state wards placed at the taxpayer-funded centers.

14. March 8, 2015

Sun-Times: Rep. Aaron Schock bills taxpayers for staffers’ weekend in New York

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., took at least 10 of his House staffers on a $10,053 taxpayer-funded trip to New York last September, where most of them had few official duties, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

But a Sun-Times examination has revealed that most of the Schock staffers — who worked in Peoria or Washington — did almost no government work during their taxpayer-funded weekend in New York.

13. March 6, 2015

Tribune: State lawmakers heighten calls for College of DuPage review

State lawmakers turned up the pressure for a comprehensive audit of the College of DuPage following a Tribune investigation that uncovered lavish spending by school officials at the campus’s upscale restaurant.

“Something is seriously, seriously, seriously wrong at the College of DuPage,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who is sponsoring the audit resolution. “It’s like these guys are drunk with other people’s money.”

12. March 6, 2015

Better Government Association: Did Ex-Chicago Detective Frame Multiple Suspects?

An ex-Chicago cop already accused of framing two murder suspects may have railroaded other defendants.

That’s according to the Emanuel administration’s recently completed probe of misconduct allegations involving Reynaldo Guevara, the retired Chicago police detective who has been called a “frame-up artist.”

11. March 6, 2015

Pantagraph: Former senator now a lobbyist

A former Illinois state senator has joined the lobbying ranks, becoming one of at least 37 ex-lawmakers using their influence in the Capitol on behalf of business and industry.

The East Moline resident listed his lone client as MidAmerican Energy, which provides electric and natural gas to customers in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota and Nebraska.

The company has long supported Jacobs as a candidate for office, writing checks worth $90,000 to his campaign fund dating to 2005. During his unsuccessful bid against Anderson, MidAmerican gave Jacobs $9,000.

10. March 6, 2015

Tribune: College of DuPage officials drink, eat well on taxpayers’ dime

With a dozen bottles of wine, pate and $70 prix fixe plates, College of DuPage President Robert Breuder hosted a holiday dinner for the school’s board of trustees in December 2013 at the campus’ high-end restaurant, Waterleaf. The tab — $2,331 — was paid by taxpayers.

The next night, Breuder threw another holiday dinner, this time for top administrators; 18 people were there. On the bill were 18 bottles of wine, with six of them listed at $114 or more. The bill to taxpayers: $3,572, or nearly $200 per person.

They weren’t done celebrating.

9. March 5, 2015

CBS Chicago: High School Allegedly Used Grade-Cheating To Pass Students

A Chicago public high school is under investigation because of allegations that students are being passed even though they have failing grades.

Sources say the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Inspector General is looking into how Benito Juarez Community Academy High School uses “benchmark recovery” — a grading system that is supposed to help failing students meet standards. At Juarez, the allegation is that benchmarking is being used instead to simply pass kids along.

8. March 4, 2015

Sun-Times: Court monitor wants to sign off on IDOT political appointments

A federal court-appointed monitor said Wednesday she wants to sign off on all political hires, promotions or transfers within the problem-plagued Illinois Department of Transportation until the agency audits its employment mess.

Special Master Noelle Brennan also said the ability of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s new IDOT director to fire “at will” past IDOT political appointees has been “undercut” by the transfer of many of such hires into union positions that carry job protections.

7. March 3, 2015

Pantagraph: Medicaid chief pledges crackdown on benefits to dead people

The new director of Illinois’ Medicaid program pledged Tuesday to crack down on the number of dead people who receive health insurance benefits from the state.

At issue are two audits that found the state has spent millions of dollars on health insurance for people who were deceased.

6. March 3, 2015

International Business Times: Rahm Emanuel Runoff – Chicago Mayor Tied to Lobbyist for City’s Red Light Camera Firm, Review Shows

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a stiff challenge in his bid for re-election, and the April 7 runoff could hinge on his support for controversial red-light cameras. The devices — which automatically ticket cars that appear to have violated Chicago traffic laws — have generated $500 million in revenue since they were introduced in 2002. But with the cameras often ticketing cars that only ran through yellow lights or went just a few miles per hour over the speed limit, and with a study showing the cameras deliver few safety benefits, polls show two-thirds of Chicagoans consider the camera program “a bad idea.”

An International Business Times review of city records shows the mayor’s support for the program may be about something more than traffic safety or generating revenue. Those records reveal just days before Emanuel awarded a lucrative red-light camera contract to Xerox State and Municipal Solutions, his former top congressional aide,  John Borovicka, became a lobbyist for a government relations firm representing Xerox.

5. March 3, 2015

Sun-Times: Suit – CPD taking too long to turn over police misconduct records

An activist and independent journalist is suing the Chicago Police Department, alleging it has taken too long to fulfill his already-modified Freedom of Information Act request for records concerning officer misconduct complaints.

However, on Jan. 26 Kalven had still not received his fulfilled request. He followed up with the police department’s attorney, who said “I have been reaching out to them all day with no response, will continue to reach out tomorrow,” the suit stated.

Kalven has still not received any of his requested records, the suit stated.

4. March 2, 2015

Sun-Times: Let’s get an official report card on Aaron Schock

Why, of course, the congressman felt free to hop a private plane on your dime to take in a football game is entirely another question — among the latest in a growing number of questions about how the congressman has used campaign and government money to have a really good time. On Monday, Schock attempted to repay the money, writing a check to the U.S. government for $1,237, less than a day after the Sun-Times revealed the questionable expenditure.
It would be entirely appropriate at this point for somebody to step in and determine just how often and seriously Schock has violated House rules and federal law. We’re thinking the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House Ethics Committee or the Justice Department.

3. March 2, 2015

NBC Chicago: Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock Reimburses Private Plane Expenses for Bears Game

Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock has reimbursed the U.S. government for more than $1,200 to travel to a Chicago Bears football game last November.

A spokesman said late Monday that Schock wrote a check to cover the costs of the trip. The congressman previously charged the private air travel to his House office account, which is funded by taxpayers.

2. March 2, 2015

ABC 7: 33rd Ward alderman’s race could still head to runoff

The election for alderman of Chicago’s 33rd Ward could be heading to a runoff after claims of broken rules on Election Day.

The 33rd Ward is on the city’s North Side and includes the Albany Park and Ravenswood Manor neighborhoods. Poll watchers claim Mell volunteers intimidated voters and committed several other election violations.

1. March 1, 2015

Sun-Times: Rep. Aaron Schock used taxpayer money for private plane flight to Bears game

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., used taxpayer money to pay for a private plane to travel from Peoria to Chicago for the Bears-Vikings game on Nov. 16, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

And a Sun-Times examination of House disbursement records and campaign finance reports suggests that Schock used taxpayer money to help underwrite a September trip to New York, where a political action committee he controls spent $3,000 for Global Citizen Festival concert tickets.

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