Public Watchdog.org

Avoiding Our Own “Operation Board Games”

03.12.08

An influence peddler named Tony Rezko is currently on trial – the result of a federal investigation called “Operation Board Games” – for helping get the “right” people appointed to State of Illinois boards and commissions by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.  Those board and commission positions are unpaid, but they are nevertheless highly desirable because of the contracts those boards and commissions give out. 

It’s alleged that Blago buddy Rezko sold his good-as-gold recommendations for big bucks, some of which went to Blago’s campaign fund while the rest was kicked back to Rezko and his cohorts.  Meanwhile, favored insiders walked away with profitable contracts doled out by those boards and commissions populated by Rezko’s “people” and the “people” of other influence peddlers, suggesting that being in a position to influence “those that gives” can go a long way toward determining “those that gets.” 

The City of Park Ridge has its own boards and commissions and, like the state’s, they are comprised of people chosen by one man.  In Springfield it’s Gov. Blago, while in Park Ridge it’s Mayor Howard Frimark.  Although the City Council provides advice and consent on those appointments, that traditionally has been a mere formality.  And with the current crop of Alderpuppets (Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan) rubber-stamping virtually anything he wants, Mayor Frimark’s appointments have all had smooth sailing.

We want to make clear that we endorse the concept of altruistic citizens, through service on these boards and commissions, providing input on many of the decisions that ultimately are voted on by the City Council.  In fact, we think they are needed even more than before, with only a seven-member Council and a City government hemorrhaging senior staff due to both a misguided early retirement policy (enacted by the prior Council) and what may be active “housecleaning” by the mayor. 

That’s also why it’s more important than ever before that those board and commission members are the best available, free of the social, economic and political ties that can cause the kinds of shenanigans being revealed in the Rezko trial – even though we want to make clear that we have no evidence that would call into question any of the actions by those boards and commissions to date.

Unlike the state boards and commissions which tend to have final say over many of the issues they address (e.g., how much funding gets allocated to low-income housing, who gets to manage the billions of dollars in state pension funds, etc.), most of our boards and commissions merely make recommendations that must be approved by the City Council.  But even when the Council had 14 members it rarely rejected those recommendations, so there’s no reason to expect heightened scrutiny of future recommendations from a Council with only half that many members.

Just because those boards and commissions don’t make the final decisions, however, doesn’t mean that their recommendations to City Staff and the Council as to who should get the consulting contracts for proposed projects and programs don’t carry a lot of weight; and those consultants, in turn, seem to have significant input as to who ultimately gets the contracts that end up costing us taxpayers multi-millions of dollars and/or put the City multi-millions of dollars in debt.  

What do we know about the members of the various City boards and commissions that have this kind of influence?  Nothing but their names, judging from the “Boards and Commission Members” page of the City’s website.  Whether that’s the product of mere sloth on the part of the City or just another insult from the Culture of Secrecy, we still deserve to know more about those appointees than just their names.

What we should be told about them are things that we might not otherwise know or can readily discover, but which would help explain why they were appointed and also give us some insight into why they say and do the things they say and do.  Let’s start with who appointed/re-appointed them and when.  Throw in their educational background, current occupation and by whom they are employed, along with any other significant qualifications, credentials or experience that may have figured into the mayor’s decision to appoint them.  And include a photograph so that we can recognize them when we see them on the street, on the Metra train, or at the Jewel.

And while you’re at it, City, why not do the same for our elected and appointed officials?  For example, telling us only that Ald. Schmidt is a “law partner,” that Ald. Ryan is a “Vice President national civil engineering firm” and Ald. Wsol is a “Group Manager of Information Technology,” doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on.

One of the ways to end the Culture of Secrecy is to make sure the average citizen knows enough about all of the “players” to make informed and reasoned judgments about what those players are doing and why.  And since we can’t tell the players without a scorecard, it’s time the City gave us one.

5 comments so far

I looked at that list of board and commission people and only recognized a couple of names. There should be bios on each of them because I can’t believe every one of those people deserved their appointments.

The people who serve on these boards and commissions are unpaid volunteers. They should be commended for doing those jobs, not criticized for it. Why is this even an issue?

That is a thoroughly misleading argument. Volunteering to do favors for business associates or volunteering to approve developments which are detrimental to the City are NOT commendable acts. That is why these “volunteers” should recuse themselves when someone with whom their company is doing business petitions the City for some reason.

Anonymous on 03.12.08 8:48 pm:

“Volunteers” who are incompetent, don’t want to do the heavy-lifting, or are self-interested do not deserve commendations. And this is “an issue” for the same reason Tony Rezko is on trial at 219 S. Dearborn – government corruption.

Despite the fact that Illinois has long been a cesspool of bad government and crooked politicians, the citizens DESERVE not only squeaky-clean, honest government at every level but the EXPECTATION of such government – not only from our elected officials but also from those appointed unpaid “volunteers.”

And the best way to get it is through totally transparent, full-disclosed operations. Which is why we deserve bios and photos of every elected and appointed public official, including every person on a board or commission.

I agree with the previous couple of posts.

Being a “volunteer” does not excuse a person from being honest, working hard, or following the rules.

I “volunteer” for many positions in this community, elected and otherwise. The last thing I would ever want is that the bar for me should be lowered, relative to performance or transparency, simply because I don’t get paid for a position.

I am a “volunteer” because:

I believe I can help my community.

I want to teach my kids that they need to be involved in the communities in which they live.

Park Ridge deserves better than what we have (for the most part) today…and I’m putting my money/time where my mouth is…and am happy to do so.



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