In the Chicago region, generous perks commonly accompany elected office.
That usually means free government-issued cars, cell phones, credit cards and expense accounts. In Bridgeview, though, it also means Kenny Chesney.
The southwest suburb is home to Toyota Park, a stadium hosting Chicago Fire soccer as well as musical performances.
The village government owns the 6-year-old stadium, and village officials consequently have free access to a suite for special events – which have included concerts by Chesney (he’s a country star, for all you city folk), and Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton and Phish.
Citing the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the BGA asked for and received village documents showing which Bridgeview leaders used the stadium gratis.
Turns out Trustee Norma Pinion used the stadium suite 13 times in 2010 and 2011. Village Clerk John Altar used it 12 times, as did Trustees Mary Sutton and Patricia Higginson.
We asked Higginson, who records show saw Chesney and Buffett perform in 2011, what her favorite performance was.
“All of them,” she said, before hanging up on us.
We didn’t know parrot-heads were such a shy breed.
Anyway, we asked a spokesman for the village what gives – why do Bridgeview taxpayers subsidize entertainment for their leaders?
“The reason or rationale to us: it’s kind of like having this great asset and we use it to promote the hell out of Bridgeview,” said the spokesman, Ray Hanania. “Every village official can use it at least once a year.”
Right. Promoting it, by being there. Makes perfect sense.
So does the $200-a-head allowance for food and drink that village officials could spend at the events, until the practice was recently discontinued.
We’re not saying every perk for government officials is bad.
But, as Clapton might say, “it’s in the way that you use it.”
That’s some “Doh!”
Laura Morask is accused of making a mistake, but should we be the ones paying for it?
In 2008, Morask was an assistant Cook County state’s attorney running for Cook County judge. The Chicago Council of Lawyers found her “not qualified” and indicated she was “cited numerous times by both the Illinois Appellate Court and the Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct.”
That characterization apparently upset Morask, who countered in an email to a legal-issues blogger that she “had a full and complete hearing in the ARDC . . . and was completely cleared.”
She also indicated in the email that anyone could have figured this out had they done research.
Except, in reality, previous activities by the ARDC – the Attorney Review & Disciplinary Commission, the state agency that looks at misconduct by lawyers – were not accessible to the public.
And, Morask – an elected Maine Township trustee – never had a “full and complete hearing” and was not “completely cleared.”
Actually, while Morask never before had been disciplined, an ARDC panel had previously “admonished” Morask – who was accused of making inappropriate remarks at trials, in violation of the professional code that attorneys are supposed to abide by – to “review the rules . . . and take steps to ensure that her future conduct is consistent with the rules.”
More recently, the administrator of the ARDC filed a complaint against Morask for making inflammatory statements in other criminal cases she handled, and “false and misleading statements” to the blogger during her failed run for judge.
That complaint is, in effect, on appeal, and Morask now is in private practice, awaiting word on what, if any, punishment she may face, up to and including a revocation of her law license. At first blush, this might seem like inside baseball, a semantics beef between lawyers. Until you look at the price tag:
Taxpayers have been billed $340,000 for Morask’s legal defense since 2010, records show.
But why is the public on the hook to defend Morask for allegedly improper comments she made, in part, during a political campaign?
A spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez emailed this response:
“All of the counts that were brought against ASA Morask by the ARDC related to her work/conduct as an Assistant State’s Attorney. While Count 1 stemmed from comments made during an election, all of the counts were brought as one case that was defended together by the same attorney. It would be impractical and inappropriate to bifurcate counts filed against an attorney in any ARDC proceeding.”
Morask declined to comment.
Nothing to sneeze at
You might recall a previous story about the president of Chicago State University collecting perks totaling as much as $800,000 (in part for unused sick and vacation days) from the City Colleges of Chicago upon leaving as chancellor.
We recently learned that, from 2010 to 2012, CSU paid departing employees, collectively, more than $930,000 in unused sick time.
However, the practice was curtailed earlier this year after CSU’s board learned sick-time payouts are apparently against state policy.