Quick Hits – It’s nice work, if you can get it!

Imagine if you saw a classified ad that looked something like this:

Wanted! Elected and appointed public officials. Minimal experience required. Perks include six-figure salary, Cadillac benefits package, and no need to show up on a regular basis.

You’d probably leap at the opportunity. I know I would!

Of course, we’ve all heard about those infamous Second City ghost payrollers, but this is a rare case where Kane County beats the pants off our scurrilous metropolitan counterparts because it’s the bosses who never manage to show up out here!

Take that Cook County!

So, without further ado, let’s examine the top three Kane County failing-to-show-up-for-work offenders in ascending order:

3. State’s Attorney Joe McMahon

As we’ve already covered, when Joe does manage to show up at the Judicial Center, he takes the freight elevator up to his office, spends all of two hours behind a closed door, and then he disappears via the same route. When he actually does put in the expected time, it’s for the citizens of Cook County and not the people who actually elected him.

And the fallout from his absentee leadership is becoming more and more apparent.

mcmahon

The morale in the criminal division is so bad that most of the KCSAO’s best people have already left. New prosecutors are thrown to wolves with virtually no training and somehow expected to succeed. “Discretion” has become a dirty word, and their definition of “justice” is letting the judges sort everything out.

But as bad as those folks are, the civil division is far worse. While McMahon was off prosecuting Laquan McDonald shooter Jason Van Dyke, Joe Lulves completely blew the opportunity to wring any kind of meaningful concessions from the incoming Maxxam Partners Campton Hills rehab center.

Then they turned around and successfully sued the County to the tune of doubling our lawsuit insurance.

Lulves also failed to accurately review the most recent union contracts which left the Chairman, the County Board, and the taxpayers twisting in the wind. Can you guess who’ll be paying for those two major lapses.

I could continue but I’m sure you get the idea by now. Meanwhile, the citizens of Kane County get to enjoy the rare privilege of paying McMahon $166,508 a year to train for triathlons.

 

2. Circuit Clerk Tom Hartwell

Borne of an entitlement mentality the size of Montana, Tom decided his $90,000 salary plus to-die-for benefits weren’t nearly enough, and after his attempts to get a raise and get elected judge failed, he went back to practicing law while Kristy Sharpness runs the Circuit Clerk’s office.

And she does a great job, too! But that begs the question, then why do we need Tom Hartwell?

hartwell2

Considering what a disaster the new court database implantation turned into – I’ve never heard so many complaints from attorneys, paralegals and judges – I’m thinking the boss’s regular presence might’ve made a difference.

But you can count on death, taxes, and Tom Hartwell running for the next judicial opening on the Kane County taxpayer’s dime.

 

1. Public Defender Kelli Childress

This one particularly pains me. Not only do I harbor a soft spot for public defenders everywhere, but I’ve previously extolled Ms. Childress’ vast litigatory virtue. The problem is, when it comes to not showing up at the office, she’s the Kane County queen by a longshot.

I suppose everybody has to be good at something!

Childress 2

Kelli Childress

With the PD’s office being FOIA-proof, I turned to some folks who regularly toil in the Judicial Center and they said they haven’t seen her for at least six months. Never the shy one, Childress loves to post her tropical adventures on social media. Apparently her current jaunt involves Puerto Vallarta.

It must be nice to be paid 150 grand a year to be on a perpetual vacation.

Just like it is with the Circuit Clerk, Brenda Willett is the one who runs the PD’s office and she does an exceptional job of keeping a very difficult prospect together. So, why not make her Public Defender? She’s already doing it!

I reached out to Ms. Childress and the PD’s office for some sort of explanation, but none was forthcoming. How do you excuse the inexcusable?

Though I have to say, the irony and hypocrisy of our Kane County judges, few of whom ever work a full day, voting out a PD for failing to show up certainly isn’t lost on me. It will be fascinating to see what happens there.

 

I would’ve included Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham on the list, but that office does far better when he’s not there, so, we’ll just let that one go.

But there you have it! The top three Kane County absentee bosses. Like I said, it must be nice!

Quick Hits – Illinois Democrats! Fix DCFS!

Last week we covered – in two parts – how the “system” that failed A. J. Freund wholly consists of us. I posited that, if we put as much effort into the least of our brothers and sisters before they perish as we do after they’re gone, things would change quite quickly.

As a result of those columns, my good friend and ‘What’s Happening In…’ Facebook page owner, Paul Stukel, and I engaged in one of our classic, but civil, debates. Though this time we carried it out in public much to the chagrin of one of the ‘What’s Happening in Elgin’ devotees.

Everyone’s a critic, but I digress!

DCFS

I still say Paul missed my secondary main point that most conservative Republicans are simply content to be Christians of convenience. They have a knack to choose only the biblical tenets that suit them, and the whole “least of my brothers” stipulation doesn’t seem to slow their Ayn Rand-ian roll one bit.

It’s not that I was “blaming” conservatives for A. J.’s untimely death, as Paul and some folks insisted, it’s that I was encouraging them to be a little less philosophically hypocritical. And trust me, that ain’t setting the bar too high.

But Paul was right (please don’t tell him I said that) when he said the Department of Children and Family Services is a State-run agency, and if those scurrilous (my word) Springfield Democrats really wanted to fix it, they would! All they have to do is apply the appropriate willpower.

Particularly, when you consider our Dem governor and Dem General Assembly supermajority, there’s no excuse for this lack of diligence.

And the first thing those legislators need to do is stop the ridiculous leadership revolving door. To wit, current Director Marc Smith is DCFS’s fourteenth head honcho since 2003. That would kill any business, so how can we possibly expect an agency to execute their mission with that kind of turnover?

Not even the George Steinbrenner era Yankees managerial follies were nearly that bad.

To make matters much worse, Smith, tabbed by Governor J. B. Pritzker himself, ain’t exactly a stellar choice. Prior to taking the DCFS helm, he was an executive vice president at Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness, which may well be the worst social service agency in Illinois.

In fact, They’re so bad, they make DCFS look good. Just ask any Aurora Police Officer how many times they’ve had to show up at one of their “facilities.”

So, it’s time to bring in an outside-of-Illinois non-social worker as DCFS director. We need someone who’s willing to kick ass and take names. You’d think after 13 disastrous director attempts in 16 years, Pritzker would try something different.

What’s the definition of insanity again?

And whenever you create that kind of leadership vacuum, the inmates immediately commence to running the asylum, which makes it even more difficult for the next director to right the ship, so they quit or get fired out of further frustration. It’s the kind of self-perpetuating feedback loop that only gets worse with age.

Again, it’s gonna take some ass-kicking and name taking for DCFS to move forward.

And lastly, as my sainted mother use to say, “You get what you pay for!” DCFS directors make $150,000 a year while the overburdened on-the-street caseworkers make less than 30 grand.

Who, in their bleepin’ right mind is going to take either one of those gigs? That salary needs to be doubled to attract a decent director and what quality of caseworkers do you expect to get for what doesn’t amount to a living wage?

I understand money is just one of their slew of problems and it’s no panacea, but if we want to make DCFS work, the agency can’t continue to be a tertiary budget thought, either.

When you add all those problems up and throw in a few rounds of regular Illinois budget cuts for good measure, you get chronic staff shortages that make it impossible for existing caseworkers to do their jobs. All they can do is stick their fingers in the dike and pray for no rain.

Since these determining these solutions doesn’t require a degree in theoretical physics, it begs the question, where are all those local General Assembly Democrats I’ve come to know and somewhat love?

Apparently, State Senator Cristina Castro has been watching too many ‘Game of Thrones’ episodes because she’s far too busy trying to become queen of Elgin to accomplish anything else. From what I’ve heard, her generally imperious tendencies have not gone over well with her Springfield peers, which makes it difficult to get anything done.

Aurora State Senator Linda Holmes? I like her personally, but even if you offered me a six-figure prize, I couldn’t name a single one of her accomplishments. The same goes for Hoffman Estates State Rep Fred Crespo.

West Chicago State Rep Karina Villa is too new to have had much impact, but she doesn’t inspire confidence, either. She’ll be one and done. The same thing goes for Aurora State Rep Barbara Hernandez who’s never had an original thought in her life. Her claim to fame is sitting silently as she smirks at her peers.

Montgomery State Rep Stephanie Kifowit may not play well with others, but she does have a consistent moral center and she manages to get some things done. My fondest wish is for her to apply that talent towards taking on the errant DCFS culture.

But the biggest disappointment is Elgin State Rep Anna Moeller, who had great promise, but now seems to be content with simply taking up Springfield space. It’s always amazing to watch formerly good legislators become downright bitter and develop a massive entitlement mentality as a result.

That said, if Ms. Moeller and Ms. Kifowit ever got together on this, DCFS would have to change. Don’t worry! I’m not about to start holding my breath.

So, no more excuses Illinois Democrats! You have the power to unilaterally fix the Department of Children and Family services, so do it! Because while I would certainly hate to have to explain myself to God as a conservative Republican, can you imagine what She’s gonna do when finally faced with the folks who could’ve changed DCFS, but chose not to?

Quick Hits – Chapter One!

Given the effort it’s taking to make the book available to the public and the fact I’ve developed tendinitis in both thumbs from years of typing (buying that Nintendo Switch from my son certainly didn’t help matters), Quick Hits will be taking the day off!

But not to fear dear readers! I have a real treat for you. Simply click on the ensuing link and you will enjoy the unique pleasure of reading the first chapter of ‘So You Want to Win a Local Election?’

Your regular Quick Hits will return on Monday when we will discuss how those scurrilous Springfield Democrats could easily fix DCFS if they so chose. They certainly have the power to do it. On Tuesday we’ll cover the top three Kane County elected and pubic officials who, despite those six-figure salaries, never seem to make it into the office.

And one is particularly egregious!

Meanwhile, here’s Chapter 1!

Win

Quick Hits – We failed A. J. – Part 2

So, let’s continue our conversation on how we failed A. J. Freund, the five-year-old McHenry, Illinois, boy who was allegedly murdered by his parents.

But before we resume, I want to address some of the reader comments on the first piece.

First, I’m not making excuses for anyone. My fondest wish is for A. J.’s parents to spend the rest of their natural lives in jail. And those “natural lives” likely won’t be very long since their incarcerated compatriots will take a very dim view of child killers.

What I am doing is taking on a “system” that would allow this kind of thing to happen with the clear caveat that, we – you and I – are “the system.”

And yes! I know A. J.’s parents are drug addicts, but that’s a symptom and not a cause. Their cocaine or crack habit certainly made the abuse situation worse, but all that drug does is bring out something that’s already there.

Lastly, did the mother know exactly how to game the system? Sure, she did! That’s why I’m saying we need to change the system. So, let’s examine that prospect a bit further:

Freund House

3. The safety net that isn’t

My favorite former managing editor aptly noted that DCFS can’t remove a child from a house just because it’s filthy and reeks of dog feces. That needs to change. No child should be forced to life in a rathole and if a house is a rathole it’s a sign of so many other serious issues.

All those 22nd Circuit judges knew A. J. was born with cocaine in his system and his parents were drug addicts, but they refused to permanently remove him from a home the Chicago Tribune calls “a house of horrors.” And as we’ve frequently covered here, the vast majority of circuit judges, the highest paid elected officials in Illinois, work half days at best. All that needs to change.

A. J. told his doctor and an ER doctor he was being abused. The prosecutors knew he was being beaten. A. J.’s relatives knew he was being abused. The McHenry police knew he was being abused. But particularly with DCFS cowering in their typical CYA bunker mentality, none of these well-meaning folks managed to effectively communicate with each other. That needs to change.

And none of what we just discussed requires one cent more than what’s already being spent.

 

4. But money does make a difference

Again, it gets back to just how willing we are to take care of the “least of our brothers?” We, and especially conservative Republicans, seem to have a real problem with that biblical caveat.

We don’t take care of the mentally ill, so they end up in prison. We don’t take care of our physically disabled brothers and sisters who are damned to lives of desperation. The number of U.S. medical bankruptcies sits somewhere between 500,000 to a million a year. Fifteen million American children live below the poverty line.

Yet, we still somehow manage to call ourselves a “Christian” nation? Right!

But when it comes time to ponying up the cash required to truly care for the least of our brothers and sisters, we’re even worse.

Back in 2014, a massive petition signature effort led by the Association for Individual Development actually got a fascinating referendum question on the ballot. For a mere 0.1 percent properly tax increase, we could’ve raised $13 million a year to better fund disabled causes across Kane County. That pales in comparison to what those Republican school boards do to us on a regular basis.

But no! The usual “Christian” conservative suspects spearheaded a countereffort that doomed that initiative to defeat. Their excuse was that government shouldn’t get involved in charitable endeavors. But it’s OK for those same folks to call for regulating women’s bodies and determining who can marry who.

If you believe in a Christian God, considering the vast number of A. J.s on the planet, what do you think is going to happen when you finally come face-to-face with Her? Remember, I don’t set the standard, I simply apply it.

 

5. Ayn Rand was full of it

This one really frosts my cookies. What today’s Republicans always fail to tell you is, when Rand contracted cancer from decades of smoking cigarettes, the queen of their neo-conservative movement had no problem signing up for Social Security and Medicare. And she died abandoned by all who really mattered to her.

We are not born equal!

And to believe that we can all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps despite wildly different defining circumstances is just another excuse to justify being petty and selfish. Yes! Teach a man to fish, but the least of our brothers and sisters will always require more care and effort. And then there’s the Bible.

 

So, go ahead and blame the “system” for A. J. Freund’s horrific death, but be sure you’re looking in the mirror when you do it. Because as I stare all the photographs of the toys, balloons and flowers placed in front of the Freund house, I can’t help but think what might happen if we put the same kind of time, energy and money into a real social safety net.

One can dream.

Quick Hits – We failed A. J.

Like most of you, reading the horrific details of A. J. Freund’s too-short life makes me want to punch some suspect folks squarely in the mouth. But while the visceral reactions to his death are vast and plentiful, the kind of critical thinking I’ve been calling for lately is sorely lacking.

Freund.png

Sure! Visceral reactions can be fun and somewhat self-satisfying, but they solve nothing and they tend make the situation worse. So, as difficult as it may be, let’s examine this tragic scenario with a more jaundiced eye because that’s the only way anything’s ever going to change.

Let’s start with the obvious fact that we – yes, you and me – are the ones who failed A. J., and here’s why:

1. Abusers don’t occur in a vacuum.

We’ve covered this beyond obvious fact numerous times. But let me be clear one more time! Not all abused children become abusers. In fact, young female abuse victims are more likely to become battered adults.

But if you take adult abusers as a whole, there is a direct and positive correlation to being regularly beaten as children. It’s not that hard to understand. Most human behavior is learned, and we all tend to become our parents to varying degrees.

Just look at any photograph of A. J.’s parents and it doesn’t take a psychiatric professional to determine their affect is completely off. His father looks a member of the walking dead and his mother clearly continues to be abused.

That means this generally absurd embraced-by-Republicans Ayn Rand-ian notion that, if left to our own devices, we’re all capable of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is pure unadulterated bovine excrement.

My regular readers know my wife teaches in the East Aurora school district, and through no fault of their own, most of those kids don’t have a bleepin’ shot in hell. In fact, most of them already live in hell. And the fact that some of them actually do succeed is nothing short of miraculous.

But they’re the exception that proves the rule.

So, where were we when these two parental monsters were being created? That biblical caveat covering “the least of our brothers and sisters” is unequivocal. When you finally do meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, I would advise against saying “I was too busy” because it ain’t gonna work. There are no exceptions.

 

2. DCFS is an impossible proposition

Why do we keep expecting miracles – or even competency – from an agency that’s so incredibly overworked and so utterly underfunded it can’t possibly succeed? Yes! It looks like the lapses were particularly egregious in A. J.’s case, but do we really think disciplining two caseworkers is going to be the answer to anything?

In today’s editorial, the Chicago Tribune declares, “His death, allegedly at the hands of his parents, could’ve been prevented by a well-run child welfare system.” Yes! And if those bleepin’ Publisher’s Clearing House people would only show up on my front porch today, all my problems would be solved, too!

The editorial goes on to refer to the agency as “beleaguered,” but it offers no real solution to DCFS’s revolving door leadership and utterly untenable culture.

Yet, back in 2012, the Trib ran a great investigative piece making an excellent case for no more than 24 cases per caseworker. That reporter noted that most were tackling 40, with some caseworkers handling as many as 60 families, and the those numbers were only getting worse.

Human beings are imbued with certain limitations and defense mechanisms. If you’re constantly exposed to exceedingly difficult situations with no solution in sight, you either invite a breakdown or your start becoming inured to it.

Do you want to know what the average DCFS caseworker makes? $35,906 a year, seven percent below the national average. So, what person with half a brain is going to take a job for peanuts where you have to work absurd hours just to keep up in a chronically underfunded agency and one slip might mean the death of a child?

Without casting any aspersions on any particular caseworker, those magnificent job “perks” mean all you’re going to get is young, inexperienced employees who might not be able to make it in other more advantageous venues.

Put more simply, did those two caseworkers fail A. J.? Yes, they did! But we failed those two caseworkers. Money doesn’t solve everything, but if we want a better Illinois child welfare system then we have to be willing to pay for it.

 

We’ll continue this conversation on Wednesday.

Quick Hits – On orchestra teachers, school boards, and IWIIMBY

Now, we all know what NIMBY stands for, but you’d think, much like Newton’s Third Law predicts, there’d be some sort of equal and opposite term for when folks actually want something in their backyard. But “IWIIMBY” or “I want it in my backyard” just doesn’t have quite the same zing.

Not to fear, dear readers, I’ll come up with something better.

What made me consider this acronymic prospect is the most recent Batavia School Board meeting in which a host of Rotolo Middle School students and parents lamented the loss of their full-time orchestra teacher and pleaded with the board to reconsider.

Batavia School Board

For background purposes, as a result of an across-the-board decline in enrollment, D101 issued layoff notices to 23 teachers in March and the Rotolo Orchestra teacher was one of them.

But Houston Street, we have a problem! You know this columnist consistently commends anyone who reasonably and regularly gets involved in the process, but it always pays to understand that process before you get involved.

To wit, begging any school board to hire, retain, or fire any teacher is a fool’s errand. The only district employee who reports directly to the board is the superintendent. That’s it! And they can’t even fire him or her unless they commit some major malfeasance, or their contract is up.

(A reader correctly pointed out that the board can fire a superintendent, but then they’d have hire a new one while honoring that massive contract until it runs its course which isn’t feasible for most school districts.)

Put more simply, the board didn’t decide to lay off those teachers and they certainly can’t unilaterally decide to bring them back.

Could the board have voted to reverse course on the layoffs? Technically yes, but that would be akin to jury nullification and the odds of getting four board members to go directly against district policy sit squarely between slim and none.

What our discouraged parents and students should’ve done, and can still do, is insist upon an audience with the Superintendent and the Director of Human Resources. Right now, they’re smiling at the vast irony of the school board taking the heat for their actions. The truth is, they’re only ones who can reinstate that orchestra teacher.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the even more fascinating IWIIMBY irony.

Before we go there, let me clearly stipulate that, considering my wife is one, I never want to see any educator lose their job. It’s hard enough being a teacher without having to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from.

But without considering the merit of each departing teacher, D101 is doing exactly the right thing. Borne of previous tax hike infatuated school boards, the Chicago Collar Counties pay the highest property taxes in the nation. And every time that bi-annual tax bill arrives, like the great Emily Litella, we pound our fists on the table, curse our consarned school districts, and demand fiscal accountability!

Unless it means cutting our orchestra teacher.

Then we go all IWIIMBY on their sorry taxing butts.  Everybody wants tax cuts until it means they’re the ones who have to do with less.

And the greater irony is, Rotolo Middle School sits squarely in the heart of Batavia Republicandom, and those faithful conservatives are the first ones to demand fiscal responsibility, curse the liberal school system, and disparage those overpaid teachers who get summers off.

One of my favorite friends is a centrist Republican immigration attorney. And he regularly regales me with tales of conservative clients approaching him to get papers for a nanny, a friend, or some other undocumented immigrant whom they’ve become rather fond of. But these are the very same folks who voted for Donald Trump cause he’s gonna “build that wall.”

Oddly enough, this liege loyal liberal supports D101 in holding the fiscal line because School enrollment is fading all across this great nation and tough decisions – including closing some schools – must be made. But please understand that it wasn’t the school board that made this decision.

So, don’t put this one on them!

Conservatives! I know how dangerous this kind of thing is, but I’m gonna ask you to engage in a little critical thinking and self-reflection. Before you make that next bloodthirsty call for a taxing body’s collective heads, please consider that cuts always mean someone loses their job, someone has to deal with less, and someone who can least afford it will fall through the cracks.

That’s why, when you protest an orchestra teacher being laid off, going all IWIIMBY on us doesn’t make you look very good.