Quick Hits – February 28, 2020

One of my absolute favorite facets of this fascinating gig has been developing a solid base of truly astute readers. And those eminently intelligent and well-informed folks have certainly come through lately. Please allow me to explain:

The First Ward IS the “news media!”

In Wednesday’s column, we discussed how Kane County Chief Judge Clint Hull and I were teaming up to determine, once and for all, whether bloggers can legally attend a generally closed juvenile court hearing.

The applicable Illinois statute does exempt the “news media” from that courtroom ban, but it doesn’t begin to describe just who fits that journalistic bill.

So, Judge Hull and I continue to discuss the possibilities primarily as a result of long-time reader Jim, who duly discovered the Illinois Compiled Statutes actually do define that too-vague “new media” term.

The irony is, he found that definition in a rather surprising place – the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA code – a section I have more than a passing familiarity with! I never thought to look there because, regardless of their status, anyone can file a FOIA request.

But the law has to differentiate between public and commercial FOIA requests, so section 5 ILCS 140 proclaims the “news media” to be:

“News media” means a newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals whether in print or electronic format, a news service whether in print or electronic format, a radio station, a television station, a television network, a community antenna television service, or a person or corporation engaged in making news reels or other motion picture news for public showing.

Though I fervently believe the first sentence describes The First Ward’s thrice-weekly efforts to a tee, the “news media” question answer is ultimately up to the Chief Judge.

Some smart folks also inquired, should that decision go against bloggers, what’s the plan? If that’s the case, I’ll show up for the next hearing and ask Judge Kathryn Karrayannis to issue a “friendly contempt” ruling.

Why? In order to file a motion with the Second District Court of Appeals for an emergency hearing, I need to be able to submit a written court ruling specifically barring bloggers from that juvenile proceeding. In other words, you can’t appeal an order until it exists.

Again! I want to be perfectly clear there is nothing personal about this endeavor. It’s simply a matter of letting the process play out. And I most certainly want to thank Jim for his due diligence.

I-love-my-readers

I gave the Geneva Police too much credit!

In Monday’s piece on the 18-year-old Geneva high school student recently charged with felony drug possession, I wrote the following:

Finally exhibiting some rare good sense, even though she’s an adult in the eyes of the law, the officers called the student’s parents before any further questioning or the arrest.

And Jim rode to the rescue one more time! He wrote:

Jeff, Illinois law changed last year after that Naperville kid committed suicide after being questioned by cops and administrators. Now, if they are accused of a crime, a student cannot be questioned by police or administrators unless their parents are notified. And either a parent or representative must be there for that interrogation. So, it was not out of kindness of their hearts that they notified the parents.

Of all the people on this populated planet, I really should’ve known better. Unless you’re the mayor, the Geneva Police don’t do anything out of the goodness of their collectively hearts.

Of course, Jim was referring the truly tragic 2017 suicide death of 16-year-old Naperville North High School student Corey Walgren. As an appellate court judge unequivocally put it, School administrators and Naperville Police officers “harshly and aggressively” questioned Walgren about purported illicit underage photos on his phone – without his parents or an attorney present.

Faced with the prospect of being labeled a sex offender, Walgen slipped out of school and plunged to his death from the top floor of a Naperville parking garage. Police later determined there were no such images on his phone, just an audio recording of a consensual sexual encounter which is not illegal.

The family, school district, and city finally settled for $250,000 in 2019. But if there is a Christian hell, I look forward to those administrators and police officers joining me there.

The bottom line is, once again, I want to thank Jim for keeping me honest, and despite my best effort to say they did, the Geneva Police did nothing right in that arrest.

 

I do appreciate your concern

Yet even more readers reached out to provide support for, as they put it, my being “raked over the coals” as a result of the same Monday column. As is often the case, instead of cogently disagreeing with something I’ve said, folks with absolutely nothing to say throw my heinous “criminal” history at me as if it will somehow cancel the column and dismiss my existence.

But not only do they consistently fail to do so, their latest effort drove that piece to well over 15,000 hits, which is more than double what any Chronicle or Daily Herald offering might expect to get.

Put more simply, whenever someone insists on making me the most important person on social media, it tends to happen. And though I’d prefer it to be my cogent prose, keen perception of the obvious, warped sense of humor, and boyish good looks that drive the conversation, controversy does expand my audience exponentially.

What I can tell you is, despite the State’s insistent delays, the appeal is moving forward, and when you possess a court transcript in which a civilian witness, and two separate Geneva police officers tell three wildly different stories – despite rehearsing their testimony with the prosecutor – we all know exactly how it’s going to turn out.

And that’s not nearly the only problem the State has in that appeal.

When I am exonerated, as has been the case every time the Geneva Police have tried to silence me, a newspaper, a specific reporter, an entire police department, and some of my best new social media friends will learn exactly what it means to be called the “defendant.”

Though I will say one of the benefits of the GPD efforts is being bestowed with the coveted title of “honorary Mexican.” Just like Juan Epstein was the only Puerto Rican Jew, I’m the only Jewish looking Mexican.

Meanwhile, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the readers who understand who I am and what I’m trying to do. I can’t think of a better way to repay your trust, faith, and support than to keep writing three days a week.

So, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do!

 

Quick Hits – What is a journalist?

Before the rabble starts chiming in, particularly on my journalistic merit or the lack thereof, the question in the title is a rhetorical one. That said, I’m good with any of my more intelligent readers offering their thoughts.

Because in the era of dying newspapers and booming blogs, those formerly focused press demarcation lines have become blurrier than the famed fifty shades of gray. We may not have press credentials, but a Capitol Fax or First Ward column frequently gets more hits than a Paddock Publication, Shaw Media, or Suburban Tribune counterpart.

We also break more stories than either the Tribune or Sun-Times, but does that track record make us “journalists?” What if we simply declared ourselves to be “the press?” Would that work? Perhaps the more important question is, does the distinction really matter anymore?

Blogger vs. Journalist

For better or worse, blogs and bloggers – even the hyper-partisan variety – are now considered to be news sources. But oddly enough, though this chicken or egg question has loomed large for the better part of two decades, the Illinois and Federal Courts have yet to determine exactly what a journalist is.

And they haven’t weighed in on that question likely because the vast majority of Illinois courtrooms are open to the public, so the “who’s a journalist” distinction doesn’t need to be addressed. But what if the coverage involves a juvenile proceeding? Then it gets real and the question must be answered.

Don’t look to the State of Illinois for help! The statute simply stipulates that juvenile courtrooms are to be sealed with the exception of the “news media” who may observe those hearings. Of course, as is par for the course in our strange state, the codebook doesn’t begin to describe what the term “news media” really means.

And there’s virtually no precedent either.

In 2007, a blogger with a curriculum vitae similar to Mr. Miller’s and mine, tried to attend a Peoria juvenile hearing. But with no clear legal definition of “news media” available, the judge polled the principles, and when a social worker and an attorney objected, the blogger was barred from the courtroom.

The judge ruled that “Operating a “so-called” blog doesn’t make the person a journalist.”

But when you consider that mainstream blogs have supplanted the print media in scope, depth, and reach, the 13 years since that Peoria ruling come out to about 92 in dog years. A 2007 decision regarding bloggers matters about as much as 2020 argument on the efficacy of buggy whips.

The 9th Circuit Federal Court attempted to address this issue, but they’ve taken the chickenshit bass-ackwards approach by shooting down anyone who insists that bloggers aren’t the press. No court has had the cojones to simply state that “Bloggers are journalists” or the “news media.”

To be fair, it is a very difficult question. As much as I like to tell people that I’m the “news media” with all of the associated rights and privileges, every bleepin’ time I call the Cubs for my playoff press pass they turn me down.

And the Superbowl people won’t even call me back.

But seriously, I may understand the unique code of juvenile court conduct, but what if a 19-year-old blogger disclosed the name of a minor victim or defendant? What if they described some sort of sexual abuse that, once public, would make it impossible for a minor defendant to get a fair trial? That wouldn’t work out well for anyone – particularly the blogger!

Then there are those partisan journalists who leak privileged information all the time. So, regardless of whether the courts answer this question, much like Blanche DuBois, they will always “have to depend on the kindness of strangers.” Put more simply, successfully defining the term “journalist” provides no confidentiality guarantees.

“But Jeff! Please tell me this isn’t the bleep you think about in your spare time and, if it is, why the bleep are you sharing it with us?”

Ah! That’s easy! Sixteenth Circuit Chief Judge, Clint Hull, and I are endeavoring to come up with an answer as we speak.

Given my previous coverage, my intention is to attend the transfer hearing for the Batavia High School student recently charged with possessing bomb-making material. For those non-legal folks, a “transfer hearing” is one where the judge determines if a minor will be tried as an adult.

My continuing contention is that the State Attorney’s effort to try this 15-year-old child as adult is a vastly misguided move that will only make everything worse. As it stands now, it appears that the individual juvenile court judge gets to determine who the “news media” is, but that’s the kind of standard that’s no standard at all.

Now, y’all know I’ll be the first one to bitch about something, but I can’t compliment Chief Judge Hull and some of his black-dressed compatriots enough. We’ve had a series of collaborative conversations in which we’ve truly tried to consider all the reasonable bases.

I provided that rare precedent and some applicable associated legal thought, while Judge Hull has availed himself of newspaper associations and higher courts to come up with a legal basis for where bloggers rank. In the words of that great philosopher, Regis Philbin, we both want a “final answer!”

Though it’s sometimes necessary to lower the boom, I’d much rather work cooperatively to bring balance to the political force. My hat’s off to the 16th Circuit for making that happen.

As I like to say, I’ll keep you posted.

Quick Hits – The Geneva Police are at it again!

Let’s first stipulate that, like it is with any Collar County school district, there’s a drug problem at Geneva High School. And the truly terrifying thing is, it’s not much better at the middle school level, either.

Please keep this caveat in mind because it will be important later.

It’s certainly no great secret, particularly to any parent who’s ever sent a child there. Administrators do their best to contain it, but just as it is with the greater War on Drugs, eliminating the problem it is a lot like trying to keep the falling snow from hitting the ground.

Of course, that daunting futility doesn’t mean that law enforcement or school administrators should simply bury their heads in the sand. Even if drugs were legal, as pot now is, the last thing we need is students lighting up in that passing period hallway. Our high schools should always endeavor to keep our children safe while providing a sound educational environment.

geneva police department

But there are effective means of addressing a problem, and there are blatantly bad ways, and this one certainly falls into the latter category.

Having been observed vaping at the bus stop that morning, the Geneva Police took particular interest in an 18-year-old GHS student who I will not name because it’s not material to the story.

And that’s exactly where the story should’ve ended. Give her a ticket for underage vaping and let’s all move on to more important things. But unless they’re letting Mayor Kevin Burns slide on yet another DUI, that’s not nearly how the Geneva Police Department works.

Claiming they received a “tip” this young woman possessed cocaine, they informed GHS administrators and proceeded to search her locker.

And I put the word “tip” in quotes because there was no tip. How do I know this? I issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all the paperwork involved in this eventual arrest, and despite the content of that “tip” clearly being subject to disclosure, the GPD refused to provide it. They claimed the following exemption:

Section 3.3 of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/3.3) provides that “[t]his Act is not intended to compel public bodies to interpret or advise requesters as to the meaning or significance of the public records.” 

First, that has to the most creative use of a FOIA exemption I’ve seen in my 14 years at the keyboard. As I explained to the GPD FOIA officer, unless that tip came in in Russian, I’m not asking anyone to “interpret” or “advise” me of the meaning of anything. Whenever a public entity grasps at those kinds of statutory straws, we all know they’re trying to cover up a lie.

And second, though I’ve long lost this argument, the courts’ consistent decision to  abrogate their Fourth Amendment rights the second a student walks into a school building is patently unconstitutional bovine manure. Despite whatever the Tweeter in Chief thinks, we still don’t live in a police state.

After the locker search turned up nothing, this already too-long story should’ve ended there, but no! Unhappy with that outcome, the Geneva Police resorted to another lie. This is taken directly from their own police report:

[A GHS Dean] made contact with [the student]and escorted her to the Dean’s office. [The Dean] observed [the student] fidgeting with her wallet as she walked down the hallway. Upon searching the wallet, [the Dean] discovered the corner of a plastic bag which contained a white powdery substance.

First, what adult woman ever carries their wallet in their hand? It’s perpetually in their purse to the point where they won’t retrieve it in a grocery store checkout line until the last possible second. And second, if you’re being accused of carrying cocaine, the last thing you’re gonna do is announce its location to the world.

So, I don’t believe the “fidgeting” story for a New York minute and neither should you.

Third, even if she allowed the wallet search, and the police report doesn’t say she did, an 18-year-old student cannot possibly provide consent while surrounded by school administrators and police officers. That makes this “search” just about as dirty as the entire Houston Astros baseball team.

Rifling through a locker is one thing, but searching an item on one’s person is entirely another, and two local attorneys and a former judge agreed with that legal assessment. Were I her attorney – and she has a good one – the first thing I’d do is move to have the search results suppressed.

Finally exhibiting some rare good sense, even though she’s an adult in the eyes of the law, the officers called the student’s parents before any further questioning or the arrest.

The father came to the school, hugged his daughter, and correctly advised her not to speak with the GPD without an attorney present. She was led out of the school in handcuffs, taken to the station, charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, remanded to the Kane County jail, and was released on her own recognizance at the next bond call.

I’m not condoning drug use! As the late Rick James said, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug” and it can be particularly deleterious to young and not fully developed brains. My fondest wish is, as a result of all this, she realizes that drugs aren’t the answer.

But that doesn’t mean this arrest isn’t as bogus as a Confederate three-dollar bill.

And this is a perfect example of exactly how the Geneva Police Department really works., too! Mention the GPD to any sheriff’s deputy, prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge, and they’ll simply sigh and roll their eyes.

But while this is par for the GPD course, I expect far more from our local newspapers. They’ve had some recent reporting moments, but I’ve consistently accused Shaw Media of essentially turning their papers into glorified police blotters, and this is an especially egregious example.

Having previously noted that all suburban high schools have a drug problem, how is this news? It’s the lowest of the low hanging fruit. Aside from trying to ruin her young life, what could possibly be the Chronicle’s point in running this “story” complete with the young woman’s mugshots?

All it amounts to is a conviction in the press such that, even if the charges are dropped and the paper manages to print that story, their readers will only remember is the arrest. Put more simply, it’s a BS move on the part of a paper who’s glory days are long gone.

Shame on you Shaw Media. You can certainly do better than this!

 

 

 

Quick Hits – February 21, 2020

Whenever we consider the most patently peculiar legislative or political ideas, our minds automatically drift to the loony bin known as Washington D. C. To wit, presidential contender Elizabeth Warren just told an audience that she would not appoint a Secretary of Education without a trans high school student’s express written consent.

As the eminently logical Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating!”

But sadly, bizarre political possibilities aren’t relegated to our nation’s capital. Illinois may not be as bad as some southern states in this strange legislative regard, but we’re not too terribly far behind, either.

So, let’s examine some of the more recent Illinois legislative initiatives that kinda boggle the mind!

 

Illinois Capital

 

Back to Mayberry?

In what can only called an eminently enigmatic twist, Oak Park State Rep Camille Lilly recently introduced the Gas Station Attendant Act, which would prohibit motorists from pumping their own gas.

As it stands now, with Oregon just loosening their law, only the state of New Jersey makes gas station attendants mandatory. Though I certainly remember those halcyon days when my father would drive over that black rubber hose setting off the requisite double dings as he pulled up to gas pump. The attendant would magically appear at the driver’s side window to ask, “fill her up?”

It may not have been quite as friendly as Wally’s Filling Station, but it was a close to Mayberry as Evanston would ever get.

But by the time I acquired my driver’s license in 1974, self-serve gas pumps were the rule in Illinois. So, most of our younger compatriots have never experienced the joy of having a gas station employee pump your gas and I bet that prospect would completely confound them.

Stung by the withering backlash, Ms. Lilly quickly got quiet, but when pressed, she explained that she introduced the bill to create more jobs. Only a bleepin’ Democrat!

If you really want to create some supremely spurious employment, why not have a pile driver truck travel down the major streets creating potholes as they go, with a repair crew right behind them patching up the holes? That abject absurdity would create jobs on both ends!

But as the criticism continued to mount, Lilly said she only meant to start a conversation on “convenience and safety issues at the gas pump,” adding, “This is not a bill I would move forward to make pumping your own gas illegal. That was never the intent.”

Oh yes it was!

This semi-comical effort reminds me of the time a Batavia Alderman voted against a second McDonald’s drive-thru lane because she wanted people “to stay in downtown Batavia a little longer.” My opinion column theory was if they let the air out of peoples’ tires, they’d stick around even more.

Only in Illinois!

 

Another bad idea

Not to be outdone, Naperville State Rep Anna Stava-Murray introduced a bill that would make using photoshopped images in a state or local election a Class 3 felony. That legislation’s synopsis reads as follows:

Amends the Election Code. Provides that a person is guilty of a Class 3 felony for knowingly using cheap fake (photo shopped imagery that implies a situation occurred that did not happen) or deep fake media (the use of artificial intelligence to create inauthentic photographs or videos of a person) in a State or local election. Effective immediately.

While Ms. Lilly’s legislative motivation tends to baffle me, I do understand Representative Stava-Murray reasoning. But the doesn’t mitigate the problem with her statutory theory that starts and ends with that pesky First Amendment. And the stark reality is, the U. S. Supreme Court would strike that statute down faster than a roasted ham menu option at a bar mitzvah!

Put more simply, this bill will never see the light of day.

 

But this one makes sense!

I have to say I’m more than a bit surprised that it’s faced the same amount of ridicule as Representative Lilly’s bill.

Citing noise and air pollution concerns, north suburban State Senator Laura Fine introduced an Environmental Protection Act amendment that would ban gas powered leaf blowers in Illinois, and conservatives of all ilk went completely nuts.

I had no idea they were in love their leaf blowers. Why, I haven’t had to deal with this much keening and garment rending since Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle introduced her soda tax (which was a really good idea by the way). You’d think some conservatives would understand that word is derived from “conservation.”

The truth is, those consarned things are louder than an idling 747 and the local atmosphere reeks for hours after their use. Evanston may not have banned gas leaf blowers outright, but they took an appropriate step by limiting their use to daylight hours during portions of the spring and fall.

The problem with Senator Fine’s amendment is it targets leaf blowers instead of the underlying issue which is the pollutant heavy two- and four-stroke engines generally used in all gas-powered landscaping equipment.

Those fabulous Edmunds car experts tested this theory and quickly discovered that a consumer grade leaf blower – not the pro variety – emitted more pollutants than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. They’re so bad that some Indian cities are persistently enveloped in smog and draped in heavy soot as a result of two-stroke rikshaw engines.

So, I’m thinking there should be a national push to move away from these inefficient engines to something far more ecologically sound. Perhaps as battery technology continues to improve, that transition will occur organically, but limiting pollutants is never a bad idea.

The bottom line is a complete Illinois gas leaf blower ban will never fly!

 

I’ve saved the worst for last!

Though this one doesn’t exactly concern Illinois, in the truth is stranger than fiction department, Utah legislators are one small step away from decriminalizing polygamy for the first time in 85 years.

C’mon! Do we really need a law banning bigamy? As any red-blooded American husband will readily attest, we can barely contend with one wife, much less two or three!

It was in an old Beacon-News column where I first proposed the Ward-Kelley Postulate which still holds true today! One woman in our lives is more “happiness” than we could possibly bear and adding another would only compound that “joy.”

Remember that one my younger male compatriots!

 

Quick Hits – The President and I agree on something?

Oh, my bleepin’ lord! I’ve spent decades honing my critical thinking skills, understanding how to ferret out the truth, developing a capacity to see beyond the obvious, and learning how to annoy the crap out of absolutely everyone and it all ends here?

And I’m thinkin’ that because I wholeheartedly agree with President Trump’s decision to parole former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. All I can say is, “Oh! The ignominy!”

Alright, alright! Considering I’ve similarly expounded on this subject many times before, perhaps I am being a wee bit melodramatic. But even though this is a case of the President actually agreeing with me, as that great philosopher Alanis Morrissette once intoned, it’s “a jagged little pill.”

Now, before we proceed, let me clearly stipulate that Rod Blagojevich is nothing more than an empty suit. He’s a political clown who, if it weren’t for marrying into a prominent Chicago Machine family, would be managing the Milwaukee and Sawyer McDonald’s. Though I’m sure it’ll never happen, my fondest wish is that he’d thank his beyond lucky stars and pull a quick D. B. Cooper on us.

Blago

But as I’ve said all along, the only “crime” Blago truly committed was to have the audacity (or stupidity) to think out loud. Apparently, his infamous father-in-law never explained that, while the vacant U.S. Senate seat was f*****g golden, so is silence!

C’mon! There is no politician on the planet who would’ve let that prize go without a massive quid pro quo involving a wad of campaign cash and a player to be named later. But just like it is with eBay, they woulda been smart enough to let the bidders come to them. It’s not the kinda thing one needs to solicit.

Had Blago accepted a personal cash offering, I’d be the first one to say he should rot in jail.

“But Jeff! He tried to shake down a children’s hospital for a campaign contribution!” Oh, please! That kind of thing happens all the time and there’s no force in the universe is powerful enough to stop it. And nobody did it better than the Mayor Daley the elder, God rest his “poet lariat” soul!

When he reigned supreme over the Second City, Hizzoner, a true patron of the arts, once asked the fine folks at the Art Institute if they would allow him to host a political event in one of their more spacious event rooms. But when they politely explained that, particularly as a non-profit, it would be deleterious for them to do that for anyone, Da Mayor was not amused!

The not-so-subtle evidence of his dire disappointment came in the form of a swarm City code enforcers who hit that fabled institution with $250,000 in violations. Lest you think that’s some sort of chump change, in today’s dollars, that fine would come out to a cool 1.9 million.

And all Blago wanted out of Lurie Children’s Hospital was a piddly 50 grand. Give me a break What a freakin’ piker!

Our own former Kane County Chairman and Illinois State Senator Karen McConnaughay was renowned for this kind of bleep. Not only did she perfect the art of pay-to-play, she wouldn’t as much as hand out an lowly water reclamation seat with the appropriate offering. When Elgin’s Grand Victoria Casino asked for help with funding for a permanent concert venue, her highness told them that a six-figure contribution would be a good start.

And she certainly ain’t in jail!

If I thought Rod’s 14-year sentence would be deterrent to any elected official from engaging in a political process that’s older than the world’s oldest profession, I’d be the first to grab my pitchfork and torch and denounce Trump’s sentence commutation.

But his gig in the pokey hasn’t slowed them down any more than an Evanston alley speed bump. Can you say, “Mike Madigan, Ed Burke, the Soliz brothers, and Marty Quinn?” I knew you could. Ed Vrdolyak went to jail and he’s still at it. Maybe there’s something in the Chicago river aside from the occasional green dye.

Please note that Trump didn’t pardon Blago, he simply commuted his sentence. And when you Consider former Illinois Governor George Ryan served just 5.5 years for a bribery scandal that directly caused the death of a family of six, eight years in the slammer certainly ain’t a slap on the wrist.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite Facebook friends theorized that Rod had finally turned snitch and he’d soon start singing like canary surrounded by hungry cats. Nope! Donald Trumps, a man with no nuance whatsoever loves to grant clemency to friends and people he’s seen on TV.

If Rod wasn’t on ‘The Apprentice’ he’d still be jogging in the joint.

But the bottom line for me is, it’s always pained me that the good people of Illinois have had to cover his upkeep, and it will be more than fascinating to watch him try to earn a living for the first time in his less-than-mediocre life.

Lastly, though I’ve certainly overused this joke, Rod’s release does not nearly mean he’s off the hook. If I had to choose between staying in the pen and going home to my wife Patti, I wouldn’t have to think twice.

Living with that woman is the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

 

Quick Hits – Et Potest Emit, Elgin?

Back in the day, the late great Chicago opinion columnist, Mike Royko, proposed that The Second City should adjust its motto from “Urbs in Horto,” or “City in a Garden,” to “Ubi Est Mea,” or “Where’s Mine.”

And that would still work today, just ask Ed Burke!

It’s in that very same vein that, after the Elgin City Council “tabled” an eminently reasonable ethics ordinance – one based on Chicago’s current statute – I’m unilaterally changing Elgin’s motto from “The City in the Suburbs” to “Et Potest Emit,” or “I can be bought!”

It certainly has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

By the way, the reason I put “tabled” in quotes is, that’s what city councils do when they don’t want to vote something down outright, but they want to be sure it will never see the light of day again.

So, Et Potest Emit is is!

And this proposed ordinance is beyond mild. It simply would’ve ensured that:

  • Whistle blowers are protected
  • Firms doing 10 grand in annual business with the City don’t contribute to city council members or candidates
  • City council members aren’t lobbyists

It’s hardly draconian, and the fact that Elgin actually has to say it makes me wanna bang my head against the wall. Shouldn’t city council members have some sort of internal moral compass? Apparently not!

The Fab Five

Claiming the ordinance was a “Slippery slope,” the “liberal” faction of the council which includes, Tish Powell, Corey Dixon, John Steffen, Carol Rauschenberger, and of course, Baldemar Lopez, are the ones who voted to table it.

“Slippery Slope?” A slippery slope to what? Actually behaving as any good council member inherently should behave? Doing the right thing without having to be under the influence of an ethics ordinance?

After nonsensically insisting that Chicago aldermanic positions are full-time, while Elgin’s aren’t, Powell said, “I have very serious concerns about overreach in what we can do in our personal endeavors if it does not have a direct conflict with the city.”

Oh! So only full-time city council members are required to be ethical. Good to know! And  it’s not up to you to determine what is and isn’t a direct conflict because you’ve repeatedly and clearly proven your sole city council raison d’etre is you!

What Powell really meant when she said that was, “I’m getting all sorts of ‘consulting’ jobs as a result of being a councilman and this ordinance would correctly end that.” If it weren’t for her council compatriot Terry Gavin, Powell would rank as the most hypocritical elected official I’ve ever met.

Not to be outdone, Steffen said, “I agree with the concept, but I am also not trying to create situations that are just going to trip people up unintentionally.” Translated, that means, “As an Elgin Attorney, particularly because I’m sitting on that council dais, I get all sorts of business from clients who do business with the City and this ordinance would correctly end that.”

I do have a Ph.D. in aldermanese!

Meanwhile, Rauschenberger performed her typical disappearing act by slithering under the disk, while Dixon tried to borrow co-councilman Toby Shaw’s cloaking device. You see, when you look up “ethics violation” in that Miriam-Webster, you’ll find Corey’s gleaming visage directly adjacent to it.

Under the guise of constituent care, Dixon hosts free “giveaways” that make Fast Ed Vrdolyak’s antics look like the ministrations of Mother Theresa. He parlayed his inconsequential role in Ron Hain’s 2018 Sheriff campaign into a $72,000 job in that office, and I’ve been getting all sorts of reports he’s driving his personal vehicle with County issued plates all over Elgin.

Apparently, only we serfs have to pay the new $150 annual license plate fee. Corey Dixon would sell his two daughters if he thought it would advance his political career.

But we’ve saved the best for last! Baldemar Lopez! The very reason Elgin finally decided an ethics ordinance update was necessary. He actually had the bleepin’ nerve to say, “It would be little unfair to adopt these changes now because it would have an adverse effect on my practice.”

No! What’s truly unfair is that you have the temerity to purport to serve the people of Elgin, while fervently believing they’re there to serve you! Can you say “narcissistic?” I knew you could! I’ve heard Baldemar had all the mirrors removed from his house because he can’t stand the sight of himself.

Perhaps even more shockingly, Shaw turned off his cloaking device just long enough to make the best point of the evening, “Running for office is a choice, and not an obligation,” adding, “I sometimes laugh about some of the things that Chicago does. When they actually pass a transparency and ethics ordinance, and now we don’t want to take that? Really? It’s too strict for us, but it’s good enough for Chicago?”

Yep!

Tish! If serving on the city council cuts into your potential consulting clients and your amazing capacity to undermine the City and the police department, here’s a thought! Step down! And that goes for Steffen, Dixon, Rauschenberger and particularly Lopez, too. If you don’t want your “practice adversely affected,” then don’t bleepin’ run!

C’mon! If Terry Gavin somehow manages to grasp this concept, it can’t possibly be a difficult one. Shame on every last one of you!

Ah! But, as most of my readers already know, I’m much more than just a pretty face. Dixon, Lopez, and Rauschenberger are all up for reelection in 2021, and with this ethical lapse being utterly unconscionable, I’m officially looking for three good candidates.

I understand that running is no small task, but I’ll be more than happy to provide the ground game framework, the messaging, and perhaps even some of the campaign financing. And, trust me, that’s no small offer. You know where to find me!

And I thought Donald Trump was bad!

 

Quick Hits – Why do we let tragedy define us?

In a fascinatingly philosophical bent for the greatest theoretical physicist to ever walk the planet, Albert Einstein once proposed that, “The most important decision we can make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Of course, that quote is almost always reduced to “Is the universe a friendly place?”

Though merely contemplating the Theory of General Relativity can make my brain hurt, that’s a question to which I actually can provide an unequivocal answer. No! The Universe is not friendly! In fact, it’s quite a tragic place.

Think about it! The Earth has endured five mass extinctions, the latest of which was particularly dire. Dinosaurs roamed this planet for millions of years only to be wiped out in the blink of an eye by a hurtling space rock.

Warehouse Shooting Aurora

And make no mistake, there will be a sixth! If we don’t kill ourselves first, a gamma ray burst from a distant dying star, a well-aimed solar flare, or another large asteroid will most certainly do the trick. We essentially live in a cosmic shooting gallery, and just like it is with Russian roulette, one day we’ll draw the chamber with the bullet.

So, having answered Einstein’s question, that leaves us with two choices. The first is to cower under the shadow of the Sword of Damocles. The second is to be grateful for the happy accident that is this likely too-brief existence and enjoy it while we can.

Though it’s certainly taken me a while to figure that out, I seem to be one of the few folks who falls into the latter camp. Most of us seem to be more than content to allow tragedy to define us.

With tomorrow marking the one-year anniversary of the Aurora, Illinois, Henry Pratt shootings, as you might imagine, I’ve been considering this enigma a little more lately.

Of course we should remember and lament the untimely deaths of five fellow human beings, but what bothers me is how that horrific moment in time has become one of Aurora’s defining moments. Though I will give most of the newspapers credit for not printing the shooters name, they’re reviewing this horrific event as if it was some sort of previous sports championship.

Aurora strong? While I certainly understand that sentiment, Aurora has always been strong in my eyes.

Then the Aurora Art and History Center creates a Henry Pratt exhibit? Though I firmly believe their hearts are in the right place, not only does it seem somewhat morbid, but despite those good intentions, an exhibit can’t help but glorify a mass murderer and perhaps encourage copycats.

The same goes for all the recent news stories.

The sad truth is, Aurorans die inopportune deaths every day. In 2020 alone:

  • 30 Aurorans will die in car crashes
  • 410 will die of heart disease
  • 362 will die of cancer
  • 41 will die of the flu
  • 50 will die of diabetes
  • And 29 will take their own lives

But we rarely talk about them, they virtually never make the papers, and, aside from a gravestone, there are no memorials erected in their honor.

Please don’t get me wrong, even though I’m sure some of you will. I am devaluing no one’s death. As the great John Donne said in his famous sermon, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,” but why do we give more import to truly tragic deaths like mass shootings?

It’s not as if this country has shown any capacity to finally deal with mental illness or prevent mass shootings, so that can’t possibly be the point. And would we really forget Henry Pratt if there were no exhibits or further newspaper accounts? I don’t think so.

When I think about Aurora, I’d rather remember going to River Edge Park, seeing the amazing Outlaws at Downtown Alive, enjoying the latest Paramount Broadway series, a Gillerson’s burger, taking my then-young boys to Sci-Tech, watching our Hispanic brothers and sisters celebrate Dia de los Muertos, working on the Mayor’s campaign team, the now absent Beacon-News building, and the many fascinating Aurorans I’ve met during my tenure as an opinion columnist.

That doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget the Henry Pratt victims, it’s just that I don’t ever want a mass shooting or a mass shooter to become my defining Aurora moment.

Yes! As previously postulated, the universe is not a friendly place and this existence is generally defined by tragedy. But even though that sword perpetually hangs above us, secured only by a scant thread, it doesn’t mean we have to let tragedy define us.

Aurora has been strong, it is strong, and it will be strong.