Quick Hits Postponed!

Due to spending the majority of my morning in immediate care as a result of a toe fracture that goes right through the base joint, I did not have time to write today. You’d think a 60 year-old would’ve finally figured out how to navigate the garage without running into the pickup truck’s parking block in bare feet, but no!

Win

And the irony is, despite a plethora of previously broken bones, this is the most painful injury I’ve had to endure!

But not to fear dear reader, because you’re in for a real treat! Here’s chapter two of the eminently forthcoming ‘So You Want to Win a Local Election. Enjoy!

Chapter 2 – Win-A-Local-Election

We’ll be back on Monday with a fascinating two to three part series on sexual harassment in middle school!

Quick Hits – What God isn’t!

I’ve been considering this column for quite some time, but it took a Sunday Chicago Tribune piece to finally get those particular mental gears going. Reporter Nara Schoenberg interviewed six local women regarding their thoughts on wearing the “hijab,” or Muslim headscarf.

Though their stories were all fascinating, one of them hit the nail on the head when she said, “I think God’s got so many more problems to deal with than whether I’ve got a scarf on my head or not.”

Level of Narcissism

With that eminently cogent logic in mind, let’s go over exactly what God is not:

1. She is not a fashion consultant

That’s right! Whether it’s a hijab, yarmulke, burka, massive silver cross around your neck, turban, Hasidic dress, Amish dress, or flowing robes, that edict came from men and not God. She doesn’t really care if men take their hats off or women cover their heads in in a Catholic church, and I absolutely refuse to believe that zippers are a direct route to the Inferno.

In fact, God doesn’t really care to which faith you might adhere because in the end, it’s utterly immaterial. So, blatantly displaying your religion for all to see is nothing more than a form of bragging and a way of creating separation. And God really doesn’t care for either of those human traits.

When France banned the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols, they might have gone a bit too far, but the thought was a very good one. I’m sure God would agree.

 

2. He’s not a beauty consultant

If it were within my purview to ban those obnoxiously bushy beards that many men – and especially baseball players – insist on wearing these days, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But unfortunately, God has a much more laissez-faire attitude when it comes to facial features.

As for me, the only reason I have a beard/Goatee is because I really hate shaving.

If he came back today, what do you think the Buddha would say about folks wearing a red dot on their forehead to honor him? God doesn’t care about your hairstyle either. Wear it long, short, or embrace the Sinead O’Connor look, it’s all good!

Salvation comes through good acts, not from avoiding a razor.

 

3. She’s not a dietician

Given the dangers of our predecessors partaking of pork and shellfish, I understand those specific biblical caveats, but I refuse to believe a dinner at Red Lobster is a one-way ticket to eternal damnation.

Ramadan, Passover and Lent? They’re just some ascetic’s idea of a good time, but doesn’t fasting on demand kind of dilute the entire intent? If you have to be told to be devout then you weren’t very devout to begin with.

And those kinds of restrictions can be deleterious to your health, too! Despite his best efforts to follow the Buddhist vegetarian tenet, the Dalai Lama’s health deteriorated so badly that he was forced to go back to eating meat.

To wit, many of my type O compatriots will confirm that, unlike the more recent blood types, going the vegetarian route is fraught with peril.

The bottom line is, God doesn’t give a flying bleep what you eat as long as it’s not another human being.

 

4. He’s no sports fan, either

Sometimes I wonder about the whole New England Patriots thing, but this one is my personal favorite. God is far too busy dealing with hypocritical Christians to be a sports fan. That means that every time I see a Major League Baseball player point two fingers to the sky after hitting a homerun, I want to scream – and I usually do.

Because if God actually paid that much attention to sports, and the Chicago Cubs and Javy Baez in particular, I’d be the first one to question His priorities. And if He had that much power over sporting events, I’d expect to see the same players flip Him the double bird after they hit into an inning ending double play.

Don’t you have to take the good with the bad?

And pregame prayers? Really! Isn’t asking God to grease the skids of the other team’s defeat a lot like Vinnie Barbarino’s mother praying for the gym teacher to have an accident? That certainly doesn’t seem like the Christian thing to do.

So, no! God doesn’t take sides in sporting events because it wouldn’t be the God-like thing to do.

 

I’m glad we finally cleared all that up!

While I certainly understand what God isn’t, I suppose what She is is still open to debate. I prefer the Buddhist notion of a collective consciousness or a Lucas-esque Force, but I have no intention of recruiting followers and forcing those thoughts on them or anyone else for that matter because I’m too busy, too!

And God is good with that!

Quick Hits – On Inconceivable Things!

Since I’m not likely to get many readers on Memorial Day and this is a column I’ve been considering for quite some time, let’s temporarily skip the politics and engage in a little philosophical thinking instead.

To that very end, I used to tell my grandmother that her late 1800s to the 1970s lifespan had to be the most fascinating time to be alive, bar none. To go from horses and buggies to the Moon landing; to bear witness to two bloody World Wars; to go from the telegraph to radio to color television; to be there as medicine wiped out diseases like smallpox and polio in 70 short years was nothing short of remarkable.

But now that I’m firmly ensconced in my 60th year, I’m wondering if perhaps my Baby Boomer generation might trump my grandmother’s in the technological and medical advance department. Think about it for a second!

For me, the biggest advance with the most far flung consequences has got to be instant communication.

Cell Phone

Harkening back to my youth, a long-distance ‘60s call was a real treat. You’d dutifully wait until 9 p.m. to call that California relative because the rates were far lower in the evening. Then, with a kitchen timer diligently set for ten minutes, we’d pass the single corded landline around so everyone got a chance to say hello.

Then it was goodbye until next year.

And those landlines were overly prone to busy signals, too. If the other party wasn’t home, the phone just rang until you finally gave up. No one even considered the possibility of voicemail, and an overseas call to Europe? Fuhgeddaboudit! My family didn’t have that kind of money!

Meanwhile, my father owned a beautiful Telefunken short wave radio that could pick up broadcasts from all over the world. We’d turn in on late at night when the reception was best and be summarily amazed by eavesdropping on BBC and German radio broadcasts.

Fast forward to 2019 and armed with a small device charging just to my left, I can text or call anyone anywhere with no concern for cost. I’m texting a friend who’s vacationing in Columbia right now. And through the magic of Facebook, I talk to my Edinburgh cousin almost every day. And I have a slew of good friends I’ve never met face-to-face.

Spontaneous communication has forever shifted this world in ways we still can’t completely fathom. Thought those Star Trek communicators proved to be somewhat prescient, I don’t think I ever considered the possibility of a smart phone.

Of course, those lightspeed links wouldn’t be possible without the computing power required to back them up.

In those mid-70s high school days, some of my Northwestern University friends and I would hide in the Leverone Center overnight to play computer games on the University of Illinois based PLATO system mentioned in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’

To say that eminently bulky plasma panel display CRT was “bare bones” would be the mildest of understatements. Continuous action? Nope! The orange monochrome screen would refresh itself every five seconds in what one might describe as a somewhat of a strobe light effect.

I finally purchased my first XT personal computer in 1985 for a just $2,500! It had a mere 640k of memory, used 5.25 inch floppy disks – no hard drive, and you had to know exactly what command to type in at the C:> prompt to get it to work. But it was exponentially more powerful than the PLATO system.

But that same device charging to my left – the one that boasts more computing power than the mainframes used to land the Apollo astronauts on the moon – puts that XT computer to shame, too.

With that singular device I can watch the Chicago Cubs anywhere, I can pinpoint my family’s locations, and I can listen to my entire 7,000 LP music collection without storing a single song. It’s a far cry from what we thought was the magic of an A.M. car radio

Then there were those Evanston Township High School term papers which inevitably meant a lengthy visit to the Evanston Public Library reference room, poring over microfiche and periodical indexes, assembling a series of notecards, and hoping that biography you so desperately needed wasn’t already checked out.

Now, borne of instant communication and the exponential explosion of microprocessor power, we have the Internet where every bit of information ever compiled by Homo Sapiens is available at your fingertips.

Granted, you have to sift through some rather shifty stuff, but it’s downright miraculous that, this morning, I could access the local weather radar before considering a three-mile run. When the skies looked ominous before that neighborhood baseball game, the best we could to in 1976 was call 976-1212.

Through the magic of the Internet, I can order a Bluetooth turntable from Target and have them ship it or simply walk in and pick it up. I know exactly what’s happening in the world almost as soon as it happens. And I quickly learned the best way to install a satellite radio antenna in my new previously owned Toyota Corolla.

To that eight-year-old, 1966 Jeff Ward, it’s nothing short of something out of science fiction. I could not be an effective independent journalist without the Net.

Let’s not forget modern medicine!

My mother would regale me with tales of how her asthma attacks would lay her up for days and there was nothing anyone could do about it. After his first heart attack in 1969, my father spent a month recovering in the hospital.

But in 2019, my wife just had cardiac ablation surgery at 10:30 in the morning, and she was home by 4:30 in the afternoon. She too a walk the next day and was back to teaching in three days.

My asthma was so bad in my 20s that I had to be hospitalized twice. But with today’s allergists and incredible pharmaceuticals, I’m running better and more consistently than I did in my 30s.  (Thank you, amazing Advocate Dreyer allergist Dr. Amy Thomas!)

My hyperactive thyroid and inherited high blood pressure could’ve greatly shortened my life, but thanks to some rather inexpensive drugs, both are completely under control. And that’s the least of what modern medicine can do.

Especially when you consider that instantaneous communication, I know just how easy it can be to focus on the negative. But when I consider my brief 1958 to 2019 existence, it’s nothing short of miraculous. As I like to say in columns, “Who’d a thunk it?”

I wonder if my two sons will be as equally amazed in 2059?

Quick Hits – Kwame Raoul protects sexual predators!

Considering the time lapse involved, a number of readers recently reached out to ask how my FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) denial battle with the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office is going. If you recall, that office provided 256 pages of completely redacted sexual harassment complaints against former prosecutor Alex Bederka.

The answer to that simple question is, Not well!

Despite filing the kind of appeal some local lawyers said blew KCSAO Civil Division head Joe Lulves’ denial argument completely out of the water, the Attorney General’s Office insistent response to any appeal inquiry on my part is to “be patient.”

You’d think the fact that Lulves said – in print – he wouldn’t turn the documents over regardless of any AG ruling would’ve fired them up a bit. But no! Apparently, the AG’s office harbors the most serene attorneys I’ve ever encountered.

To wit, the FOIA denial appeal process started way back in October of 2018, but there’s has been absolutely no movement since then.

Kwame

So, I reached out to the Attorney General’s Office on February 6 only to be told they were working on it and I should be patient. Then they provided that very same “advice” on May 21. Out of frustration, I repeatedly contacted their Senior Press Secretary Annie Thompson only to be summarily ignored along the lines of Alex Forrest (look it up).

According to some of her statewide elected office press peers, Ms. Thompson tends to approach her job with a head-in-the-sand methodology. I tried to explain that, especially in cases like this one, justice delayed is justice denied, but that argument fell on deaf ears.

And it’s justice denied because even if the Public Access Counselor ruled in my favor this very day, with State’s Attorney Joe McMahon’s full support, Lulves would simply refuse to turn over the documents. That would necessitate seeking a court order to force the KCSAO to comply, and the ensuing legal maneuvering could easily delay the process for six months to a year.

Then, even when the courts inevitably uphold the AG’s ruling, Lulves will simply file an appeal, drawing out the process for at least another six months which renders the entire effort moot by putting it past the November 2020 election.

At that point McMahon, or whomever else might run for that office, won’t have to face the voter music.

And speaking of “whomever else might run,” word on the street is, chief felony prosecutor, Bill Engerman, will run for McMahon’s position if Joe finally decides he’s had enough.

You remember Bill! He’s the one who was fired from the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office for “inappropriate contact” with female staffers. But when DeKalb Judge Robbin Stuckert begged McMahon to hire Engerman, despite being aware of his track record, he did just that.

Then Engerman became part of the KCSAO cabal known as the “Welcoming Committee,” a group of male prosecutors that held a competition to see who would be the first one to “date” the most recently hired female prosecutors. Now that Engerman is married and in a position of power, his claim to fame is berating and belittling those same female prosecutors to the point where they quit.

And, despite those closeted skeletons, Engerman has the nerve to consider a State’s Attorney run because he knows that neither the local press nor the AG will hold that office accountable for anything.

Considering my past successes with FOIA appeals, some high-ranking elected officials have concluded that this sudden sad turn of events is the result of McMahon’s suddenly cozy relationship with Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Raoul and McMahon were originally at odds over the Cook County Jason Van Dyke sentencing, but never one to miss a politically expedient turn, when Raoul questioned that short seven-year sentence, McMahon suddenly backtracked on his press conference commentary and filed a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court to extend it.

Generally, I’m not one to buy into conspiracy theories if for no other reason that elected officials aren’t smart enough or they can’t keep their mouths shut long enough to pull it off. But this one of those rare cases where that political relationship could explain why I’m suddenly the forgotten stepchild.

So, yes! Whether it’s an intentional act or simply a case of the AG’s office not giving a bleep about an independent journalist, Kwame Raoul is protecting sexual predators. And that sucks.

Needless to say, I will keep up the fight to get those documents even if it means suing the Attorney General himself. On this, the 13th anniversary of my very first column for the Geneva, St. Charles, and Batavia Suns, investigative journalism still means something.

Quick Hits – No one can serve two masters

Though I’m generally not one to start spouting biblical entreaties, the greater quote from which I derived that title is:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Or, in the case of City Councilman Corey Dixon, you cannot concurrently serve the people of Elgin and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, because that blitheringly clear conflict of interest cannot be morally or ethically resolved.

There are times the Bible is dead on. We just won’t talk about the whole wearing polyester will sending you straight to hell thing.

Corey Dixon 3

Is it a legal conflict, meaning could a Kane County city councilman toiling as the Sheriff’s “Senior Assistant Director of Administration” be removed from the elected office by due process? No! There are only two cases where that kind of thing could happen.

The first is, you cannot hold an elected office that determines the salary of another elected or public office. So, a Kane County Board member would be prohibited from working as a Kane County employee because the Board sets those salaries by virtue of approving the budget.

The second issue is, like the whole two masters thing, you cannot serve the same constituency twice. Thus, an Elgin city councilman cannot also serve as a U-46 board member because those bodies have unresolvable interests. As Illinois State Board of Elections lead counsel, Ken Menzel, explained, “You cannot seek the best deal for the city and the best deal for the school board because those goals are frequently in conflict.”

But what makes this so much worse than those possibilities is, as I’m prone to saying, the appearance of impropriety is always far worse than any actual impropriety, and that’s going to dog Corey Dixon for the rest of, what will likely be, his only Elgin City Council term.

The most obvious disconnect is, since the people of Kane County are paying his $72,000 salary, Dixon will have to recuse himself from any vote involving a Kane County office. And that’s a really big deal. Having covered Elgin and the County Board for 13 long years, there are innumerable intergovernmental agreements between them requiring regular votes on both sides.

Not only that, but the Sheriff provides SWAT, drug task force, and many more services to the entire county. They apply for grants and underwrite programs that benefit the citizens of Elgin, and a spirit of cooperation between Sheriff’s deputies and the Elgin Police is critical for both groups’ success.

So, will Dixon, even unintentionally, apply more Sheriff’s resources to Elgin? Or fearing he’ll be considered a “homer,” will he go out of his way to see that Elgin gets less? His new job description indicates he’ll be in a position to do either one. And will he do the converse in his city council role?

Worse yet, just like our serving on a city council and school board analogy, city councilmen should be their police department’s biggest advocates, and Sheriff’s staffers should similarly support their deputies. And as that biblical caveat clearly stipulates, no one can successfully serve those two masters.

But Dixon’s biggest problem is the confidential nature of the Sheriff gig as explicitly outlined in the job description we covered on Monday.

The best way for an elected official to mitigate a conflict of interest is to publicly announce it prior to tackling a vote or issue. But if you’re prohibited from revealing the full scope of your employment, that political “cleansing” becomes impossible.

So, how will the people of Elgin know when Dixon has a conflict that might affect his vote? He could recuse himself without citing a specific reason, but that certainly won’t endear him to his constituents, who are already losing faith in him.

The bottom line is, this dual role will, by default, make Dixon a far more ineffective city councilman, which is patently unfair to the voters who elected him. Conversely, how can he be an effective “Senior Assistant Director of Administration” when he can’t help but see things through an Elgin city councilman’s eyes?

The answer is he can’t. And if he had any self-respect, or an ounce of respect for the voters, he wouldn’t even have considered the Sheriff’s position, but the term “self-respecting politician” has become an oxymoron along the lines of jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, and Trump truth.

That’s why we need local journalism more than ever.

Thankfully, the answer to this conundrum is quite simple. Since you clearly can’t serve two masters, Dixon needs to pick one!

Quick Hits – If you’re gonna do patronage, you may as well be blatant!

We briefly touched on this topic last Wednesday, postponing the full story pending a response from Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain. But when you’ve just hired a prime political ally to a $72,000 a year part-time job for which they’re utterly unqualified, what could you possibly say to defend yourself?

Hain 2

So, the Sheriff said nothing. But he did photobomb a picture of an injured seven-year-old girl in a shameless self-promotional stunt intended to misdirect the voters. But we won’t let that happen, will we?

To that end, let’s more thoroughly examine this hire:

1. Just four applicants?

It would seem Sheriff Hain had Elgin City Councilman Corey Dixon in mind all along because all a 35-hour week at 72 grand a year position with Cadillac benefits package managed to muster was just four applicants.

That certainly makes one wonder where this gig was actually posted and if anyone was actually interviewed.

According to the job description, it’s not the toughest gig on the planet, either. Here are the top four “Essential functions and Responsibilities:

  • Provides a broad range of moderate to highly complex administrative support and serves as aide to the Sheriff of Kane County in duties of a strict confidential matter;
  • Adheres to strict confidentiality with sensitive information; addresses urgent matters appropriately and timely;
  • Manages availability, rescheduling, and ensuring all requests are being addressed in a timely manner;
  • Uses independent judgment, determines priority attention;

That sounds like something right out of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Apparently, applicants have to be timely, confidential, and be able to read a calendar. Even I could handle that!

And just 35 hours? Word on the street is Hain wanted to give Dixon time to pursue his political ambitions outside the office.

2. Dixon is the least qualified candidate

All purposely poorly written job descriptions aside, Kane County’s newest “Senior Assistant Director of Administration” really should have some management background. But having seen his resume, Councilman Dixon hasn’t managed a single soul in his entire life.

And that became apparent when I advised his city council campaign team. He couldn’t manage them to the point where he ended up hiding from some of them.

The pinnacle of his employment history is as a basic Department of Human Services caseworker, and while that’s certainly a laudable endeavor, it in no way prepares you for a management position in the largest public office in Kane County.

Meanwhile, one applicant had been a site supervisor for the Oswego Park District, another is the Sheriff’s current Office Manager, who was a natural fit and supremely qualified for the job, and the third and most impressive candidate has a master’s degree in public administration.

The truth is, Dixon should’ve been out of the running the second a second resume was submitted, and if he had any moral center, he never would’ve taken the job.

3. Dixon is no friend of law enforcement

So, how is he going to “direct” a Sheriff’s office staff that has absolutely no respect for him? How do you think I found out about this hire so quickly? Dixon, along with pointless Elgin City Councilwoman, Tish Powell, has been the leader of the lynch mob calling for Elgin Police Lieutenant Chris Jensen’s head on a pike.

Jensen was the officer who shot and killed DeCynthia Clements during that ill-fated 2018 I-90 traffic stop in which she basically committed suicide by cop. Before any of the three investigations were complete, Dixon regularly demanded that Jensen be fired.

And the reaction to this incredibly misguided pandering effort has been swift and severe. I’d print what some of Elgin’s finest privately said about Dixon’s hire and the Sheriff in particular, but this is a family blog.

In the end, you really have to give the Sheriff credit for completely alienating the second largest police department in Kane County, every last one of his own deputies, and his entire civilian staff in one fell swoop. All I can say is that kind of political suicide takes real skill.

 

And this is exactly the kind of blatant bleep that Hain regularly railed against his predecessor for, calling most of Don Kramer’s commander hires unqualified. And I should know because I was his campaign manager. I guess what Ron really meant to say was it was only OK if he did it.

On Wednesday (5/22), we’ll examine why this obvious conflict of interest means a sitting Elgin City Councilman cannot work for the Kane County Sheriff’s Office and be effective in either role.

Quick Hits – It costs what?

Those of you who follow me on Facebook already know my wife had cardiac ablation surgery yesterday. It’s an outpatient procedure whereby rubber “catheters” are inserted into a vein in your groin and, using an IV medium that allows the quick detection of a misfiring nerve, they apply extreme heat or cold to destroy it, thus, fixing the abnormal heart rhythm or “arrhythmia.”

Prior to that process, my wife’s heart rhythm was a lot like a drunk salsa band.

But the cool thing is, she went into the operating room at 10:30 a.m., she was out of it at noon, she was home by 4:30, and with the exception of the expected soreness, she’s fine. Now she can go back to drinking caffeine which will make my life so much better.

Modern medicine can truly be a miraculous thing.

But as we were sitting in that Presence Mercy admissions office, my wife pointed to a chart of general operating room expenses and exclaimed, “Two-thousand dollars for anesthesia?” To which I responded, “I thought it was gonna be more.”

It was at that point that the admissions person casually remarked, “The entire procedure is actually $144,000.”  And that doesn’t include the doctor’s bill. It was at that point that I nearly had to be treated for cardiac arrest. At least I was already in a hospital.

The good news is, as an East Aurora middle school teacher, her excellent insurance means our total out-of-pocket expenses will be a scant two grand. Don’t worry! I’ll make her work it off. The lawn does need a good mowing.

Medical Debt

Of course, this led to another brief fascinating debate with my good friend Paul, who asked:

My question is, what should the price be? I mean, when you consider the extraordinary research, technology, advances in methodology, the education required to perform such life-saving procedures, what is the price that is not “outrageous?” I don’t have the answer, but I’m interested in what people think IS the right answer.

To that very question, my wife told me that the operating room, with its myriad of flat panel monitors hooked up to various medical apparatus, looked like something right out of Star Wars.

But whether the operation was worth it wasn’t really the question. I quickly explained to Paul that it wasn’t the astronomical cost, it was the fact that this single simple procedure could bankrupt so many American families in one swift stroke of red ink.

Thirty-five million of the least of our brothers and sisters are uninsured, and another 44 million are underinsured, and those ranks are rising thanks to President Trump doing his damndest to destroy the Affordable Care Act.

What that means is, as we’ve previous covered, between 500,000 and one million Americans resort to bankruptcy every year as a result of overwhelming medical bills. And vast irony is, we’re the only First World country that allows that kind of regular cruelty to occur.

Sure! Blue Cross will knock that cost way down before they pay a single cent, and uninsured folks can negotiate with hospitals to mitigate that massive cost, but I can’t see that bill going any lower than $50,000. And how is someone making just $15 an hour possibly supposed to pay that off?

No one should have to mortgage their life in order to have one!

Heart arrhythmias generally aren’t fatal, but they do affect your quality of life. My wife had to make all kinds of adjustments to deal with hers until it got bad enough that she finally had to deal with it.

But what baffles me is how those good conservative Christian Republicans consistently get poor and middle-class white folks to vote against their own national health care interests. Though that’s changing as indicated by red states rebelling at the thought of giving up Obamacare, it’s not changing nearly fast enough.

Health care isn’t a privilege, it’s a right.

So, I’m gonna keep hammering it home. The Bible is very clear on the whole “least of our brothers and sisters” thing. In fact, I’d say it’s downright unequivocal about it. How can we reconcile our self-proclaimed Christian nation status against a health care system that’s so totally out of whack that it crushes the people who can least afford to be crushed?

Let me answer that that question for you, we can’t!