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Reform and renewal

Tuesday, Dec 4, 2012

* Way back in the early 1990s, I worked for Hannah Information Service. It was essentially a private LIS with “modern” features and additions.

In those days, the General Assembly’s LIS was a dial-up bulletin board system open 8 hours a day, five days a week. You had to consult a thick book and then enter long “libsynch” codes to pull up any information. It was truly a pain in the posterior and very inconvenient.

Hannah, a Michigan company, created a menu-driven system and kept it “live” 24/7. The company downloaded all of the info from LIS, made it much easier to read and resold it. I can still remember the day when we finally convinced LIS to install a 9600 baud modem, which we paid for.

This was pre “mouse,” so while there were no libsynch codes, you had to enter digits helpfully displayed on your screen to navigate to what you needed. For those days, it was easy-peasy.

I wrote the daily “Hannah Report” back then and also managed our team of committee reporters.

The committee reporters would take notes on all debates and record the roll calls. Committee roll calls were not publicly available in those days and lots of legislators were very upset that we were recording their votes. Actually, “upset” is not he word. They were furious, and there were multiple attempts to shut us down, particularly after my column got a whole lot more pointed.

* Anyway, I told you that story to give you some background about how important this seemingly innocuous development is

The Illinois House Clerk is making committee roll call votes available soon to folks who visit the Illinois General Assembly’s website.

“This is a positive step toward greater transparency,” said longtime Statehouse observer Mike Lawrence. “It will help shift the focus of political discourse from rhetoric to records.”

I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get those official records online. The Senate has not yet followed suit

Senate Secretary Tim Anderson said his chamber is not yet ready to begin publishing committee roll calls online. He added the chamber is experimenting with transmitting more committee data electronically and may post online committee roll calls in the future.

It should be done.

Back when I was at Hannah, I was once threatened with arrest for grabbing a paper copy of a Senate amendment which had not yet been voted on by a committee. The amendments were supposed to be “secret.” But they were only secret to the non-insider public. They’re now all online.

About a dozen years ago I came up with a business idea of transmitting House and Senate floor debate live on the Internet. I was blocked from doing that. But now you can even get House committee live streams online.

Progress here is slow. And not always sure.

* I always try to maintain a healthy skepticism on ethics reform attempts because so many have not produced the intended results. Other reporters often treat reformers like gods. But those alleged gods often don’t know the first thing about what they’re trying to reform.

But this doesn’t look like a bad idea at all. From a press release…

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon joined State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) [last week] to introduce ethics reform legislation that will overhaul the much-maligned financial disclosure forms filed by tens of thousands of public servants each year.

The bill proposes a new disclosure form – known as a Statement of Economic Interests – that would require filers to list outside sources of income, lobbyist relationships and loans made or accepted on terms not available to the general public, for the first time. It also closes loopholes that allowed filers to answer “not applicable” to almost all of the questions on the current version of the form introduced 40 years ago.

Simon said the goal of the new form is to help Illinois residents determine if elected officials, high-ranking employees and candidates hold any conflicts of interest. The new form will also be easier for filers to complete thanks to the plain-language questions, definitions of terms and obvious connections to information found on tax returns and investment statements.

“At over 40-years-old, it’s time our financial disclosure forms get a facelift,” Simon said. “This legislation is about making our Statement of Economic Interests more understandable for the people who fill them out, and making them more transparent for those who want to get information from them.”

* From the News-Gazette

In a stunning statistic released by Simon’s office, it was revealed “none” or “not applicable” was the response to 75 percent of the answers to the questions on state forms. Simon said that the same answers were given 85 percent of the time in Cook County.

In other words, the disclosure forms don’t disclose much, if anything, either because the questions are so vague as to be easily avoided or people filling the forms out do not fear being held accountable for their misstatements.

That’s not unlike judicial disclosure forms. Judges are required to fill out reports detailing their outside income and reveal any possible conflicts of interest or violations of rules of judicial conduct. But no one checks the forms.

What Simon and Kotowski propose is a much more thorough set of questions that would seek information on officials’ outside employment, relationships with lobbyists and more exact details about the type and size of investments people hold.

It’s hard to determine possible conflicts of interest if you don’t know what interests could be in conflict. More complete disclosure would make a huge difference.

The bill is here.

* And a southern Illinois hiring scandal comes to an end with a small fine

A former top state transportation employee has been fined $4,000 in connection with a summer job hiring scandal at the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Danny Clayton, who was removed from his $102,000 post as assistant regional engineer in the agency’s District 9 Carbondale office nearly two years ago, was found by the state’s executive ethics commission to have violated state ethics law.

At issue were allegations that Clayton tampered with tests used to grade potential employees of a 2009 summer jobs program. Investigators suggested Clayton may have altered scores or asked applicants to take tests a second time to boost their results.

Clayton also was found to have attempted to convince a co-worker to lie about the scandal to investigators.

That employee, Michael Bigler, blew the whistle on Clayton and told investigators he was being pressured by Clayton to cover up the tampering.

One can only now wonder if the executive commission will go after Gov. Pat Quinn for that ridiculous youth “jobs” program up north.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


34 Comments
  1. - Liberty First - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:28 pm:

    Maybe they check it off because the average state worker has nothing to disclose.


  2. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:30 pm:

    Now if we can just do something about the State Board of Elections website next…

    Kudos to LIS for taking these steps.

    The new online system for committee information and witness slips appear to be a step in the right direction as well.


  3. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:34 pm:

    Here is a sample line from the current form: “The name and instrument of ownership in any entity doing business with a unit of local government in relation to which the person is required to file if the ownership interest of the person filing is greater than $5,000 fair market value as of the date of filing or if dividends in excess of $1,200 were received from the entity during the preceding calendar year.”

    With language like this, is it any wonder people have trouble figuring out what to report? I suppose that there are people that think this is perfectly clear, but I am not one of them. I have been filling out this form for years and there are still sections where I am not sure what qualifies as a correct answer.

    I know that I need to report potential economic conflicts of interest, but the trick has always been figuring out what to report on which line.

    (Plus, why isn’t there an on-line fill-in-the-blank version?)


  4. - Stooges - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:37 pm:

    Clayton was a gift to IDOT from Blago and ex-congressman David Phelps. He was a coal miner that came in to tell the highway engineers how to do their jobs. He deserves worse.


  5. - Norseman - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:38 pm:

    “It also closes loopholes that allowed filers to answer ‘not applicable’ to almost all of the questions on the current version of the form …”

    The form could use an update and some plain language, but really, calling these “loopholes” is typical hyperbole used by politicians. “Not applicable” was used by employees because it was just that. The only thing I had to disclose in years of statements was the fact that my wife worked for the state - she started two weeks before I did and about a month before I met her.

    I don’t find it surprising or ominous that 75% of the answers were answered in that way. You’re talking about a lot of employees and they all don’t have connections to lobbyists or own multiple homes, etc.

    What we have here is another sexy press pop that will not lead to anything meaningful.


  6. - Don't Worry, Be Happy - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:43 pm:

    I remember getting copies of the recordings of the proceedings for committees. I think only the House did it, not the Senate. You’d put in the request, and it would take a week or two for them to make a copy - which you would then receive on a cassette tape!


  7. - Norseman - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:56 pm:

    Read the bill.

    Okay, instead of answering “not applicable,” the form tells you to answer, “none.” Whether the terms are clearer is in the eye of the beholder. While I don’t have to file anymore, my statement will remain the same. Oops, not the same, I would use “none” instead of “not applicable.”

    Big reform.


  8. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:59 pm:

    I think some people may have answered “not applicable” because “I do not have a clue as to what should go here.” was not an acceptable answer.


  9. - frustrated GOP - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:03 pm:

    I remember the Hanna report… on the EIS, or the none form, because that is what you answer to everything, none.
    It really is a useless exercise. I’ll have to review the bill. I wonder how many times someone has used the form in a legal proceeding which is the use of such right?


  10. - RNUG - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:13 pm:

    I think Liberty First is close to the mark for the average State employee. They don’t have anything to disclose.

    I was a SPSA and had to file two different forms (one SOS, one Gov office / CMS) simply because of the level of my salary. Unlike most the other SPSA’s I knew, I did have some outside income from book royalties and one single family rental home (owned with my wife) … so I actually answered two of the nine questions … even though that ‘outside’ income had nothing to do with my state job. But all the other questions were answered “not applicable”.

    Now if they had asked for detailed information on my neighbors … one retired State Senator, one lobbyist, one agency director, one member of a prominent political family …


  11. - Esquire - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:19 pm:

    “I always try to maintain a healthy skepticism on ethics reform attempts because so many have not produced the intended results.”

    I agree completely. It has amazed me to learn how many “reforms” ended up being undiluted “power grabs” when put into practice. In some cases, it was the law of unintended consequences, but it other instances the power plays were designed to appeal to popular opinion while producing results for the well connected.

    I could give examples, but it would take too much space!

    I also agree that the Illinois State Board of Elections web site seems to be designed to frustrate people seeking information. The upgrades have made the site worse than what it was before.


  12. - Quinn T. Sential - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:26 pm:

    The IL LIS and broadcast systems are a bad joke compared to many other states. Take the FL LIS and live legislative broadcast system for a test drive sometime and you will once again be embarrassed for Illinois


  13. - Jake From Elwood - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:31 pm:

    The problem with the canary yellow forms is that they are so inartfully drawn that you need to consult with your legal counsel to answer them. Good for the bar, bad for everyone else.


  14. - Langhorne - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:31 pm:

    It used to take me almost a minute to write “NA” nine times on my form. But I felt holy for doing so.


  15. - This Beholder - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:35 pm:

    === Whether the terms are clearer is in the eye of the beholder. ===

    I read the bill, and the more important question may be whether the questions and terms are clearer in the eye of the filer who has to fill out one of these forms.

    NEW FORM’S QUESTION in SB 3941
    “2. Excluding the position that is requiring you to file this form, list the source of any income in excess of $2,500 as reported on your federal income tax return covering the preceding calendar year. If you sold an asset which produced more than $2,500 in income in the preceding calendar year, list the name of the asset and the transaction date on which the sale or transfer took place. If you had no other sources of income exceeding $2,500, list “none” below.”

    For this question from SB 3941, I think I would look at my federal income tax return and see if I had any source of income exceeding $2,500 besides the job making me file the disclosure form and to look to see if I sold any investments that generated more than $2,500 in income. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    CURRENT FORM’S QUESTION
    “List the name and instrument of ownership in any entity doing business in the State of Illinois, in which the ownership interest held by the person at the date of filing is in excess of $5,000 fair market value or from which dividends in excess of $1,200 were derived during the preceding calendar year. (In the case of real estate, location thereof shall be listed by
    street address or, if none, by legal description.) No time or demand deposit in a financial institution nor any debt instrument
    need be listed.”

    So, for the current form, am I supposed to double check with the Secretary of State to see if an entity is “doing business in the State of Illinois” or at least filed its paperwork properly? What is a “time or demand deposit in a financial institution” exactly?

    I have to file one of these forms every year, and this seems like progress to me. Will it end corruption in Illinois? No, but it sure seems like clearer language to figure out what they are asking me to disclose.


  16. - shore - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:37 pm:

    government it with the exception with jesse white’s license renewal thing which is awesome is absolutely awful. Most city, state and local websites are 1996 esque and impossible to navigate and find information. A lot of them crash and I’m leaving out the voting stuff which is even worse. Some of you are potential candidates or officeholders. Fix this.


  17. - Norseman - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 2:13 pm:

    Shore - as you probably already know, it’s not going to get any better. In most agencies IT expenditures are a low priority compared to program needs. There is always a delay in upgrades. Version 1 is made available to agency staff after Version 2 most likely Version 3 are fully adopted by the outside world.


  18. - Original Rambler - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 2:17 pm:

    Maybe they can also tell Ethics Officers what they are supposed to be looking for when doing their statutorily obligated “review” of these Statements.


  19. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 2:18 pm:

    Hey Capt Fax…did you miss the latest from HandoutAndy
    Lights up and game on — it’s time to Shine a Light on Springfield!

    The election on Nov. 6th gave one party veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate in Springfield. Who’s going to watch them and demand pension reform, budget and fiscal responsibility and more efficiency? The BGA will.

    As we look back on 2012 we’re grateful to the donors who make the Better Government Association watchdog work possible. Your support contributed to one of the most successful years in BGA history. But our work is far from finished.

    In 2013, the BGA plans to Shine a Light on Springfield by opening a BGA office in the state capital. Why? Because the numbers just don’t add up.

    Almost 100 billion tax dollars flow through all levels of government in Illinois every year. Half of those spending decisions are made in one building in Springfield — the Capitol. That’s roughly $50 billion in decision-making 200 miles away from the BGA and the state’s most influential media outlets. If we’re going to keep an eye on how public officials spend our tax dollars in Illinois, we must be in Springfield — not watching from 200 miles away.

    We can’t Shine a Light on Springfield without your help. Please consider a generous donation to help the BGA create a permanent watchdog presence in Springfield. A presence that will demand the integrity, transparency, accountability and efficiency we deserve.

    The BGA’s watchdog efforts are having an impact. Government is responding and we’re beginning to see real reform. Just take a look at some of the progress we made this year.

    ELIMINATED CORRUPT LEGISLATIVE SCHOLARSHIPS PROGRAM
    In July, Governor Quinn signed a bill to eliminate the Legislative Scholarship Program after the BGA and others exposed rampant abuse of the program. Taxpayers and universities are saving $13 million a year.

    ENDED PUBLIC PENSION ABUSES
    With in-depth investigations, the BGA continues to uncover disturbing abuses in the public pension systems - schemes designed to game the system, boost retiree payments and cost taxpayers millions. BGA investigations prompted several reforms, including one in south suburban Lansing, where trustees voted to eliminate a pension sweetener that cost taxpayers several million dollars.

    EXPOSED GOVERNMENT WASTE & MISMANAGEMENT
    Waste and mismanagement are two of the most troubling problems our governments face. They may not be criminal, but they’re corrosive and expensive. BGA investigators examined a milk contract at the Chicago Board of Education and found the city was paying more for milk than other school districts. The contract was immediately renegotiated, saving taxpayers $750,000 a year. We also investigated excessive payouts for sick days at the Chicago Board of Education, golden parachutes at the City Colleges of Chicago and various suburbs, credit card abuse and bloated government bureaucracies.

    UPDATED BGA INTEGRITY INDEX
    The Integrity Index is among the BGA’s most widely quoted and popular research tools. The new version of the BGA-Alper Integrity Index will exceed past efforts and provide a comprehensive measure of existing laws that promote honest and open government in each of the 50 states. Among the laws the Index gauges are: Freedom of Information Act, whistleblower protection, Open Meetings Act and conflict of interest regulations.

    LAUNCHED BGA PENSION DATABASE AND UPDATED PAYROLL DATABASE
    At www.bettergov.org you can keep an eye on the taxpayer-supported pensions of over 400,000 retirees, and the salaries of more than 500,000 employees. These databases shine a light on how government spends your tax dollars and support the BGA’s effort to keep government transparent and accessible to the public.

    HELP US TAKE THE NEXT STEP TO EXPAND THE SCOPE AND IMPACT OF THE BGA. PLEASE MAKE A YEAR-END DONATION TODAY TO HELP THE BGA SHINE A LIGHT ON SPRINGFIELD AND ALL OF ILLINOIS.


  20. - Colossus - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 2:21 pm:

    County and below websites are truly atrocious. Not to mention unable to interact with the Board of Elections system to streamline reporting.

    Want to talk about an embarrassment for IL? The mainframe computing system, designed in the early 80s and had its last overhaul in 1997 (or thereabouts). The state’s backend system is an absolute mess, and the cost of maintaining it is skyrocketing as seasoned veterans retire only to come back on 75-day contracts at inflated retiree rates because they’re the only ones who know how to use the darn thing.

    Want to help the state save money? Spend the cash to rebuild it from the ground up with modern technology with an eye towards making it last 30 years, with modular portions to allow for upgrades during that time. A new system would allow younger workers to get in on the ground floor, require fewer workers to use and maintain, and allow for better services to be provided.

    You have to spend money to save money.


  21. - Sir Reel - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:15 pm:

    I, like many commentors, filled out the disclosure form for years. Why? I knew of employees with clear conflicts of interest and nothing happened. Based upon the quality of my agency’s “ethics” officers, I know why. Waste of time.


  22. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:19 pm:

    This should be SOP, but I’ll say it anyway since it’s not always obvious even to companies for some reason:

    - Hire independent business analysts to elicit, manage, and most importantly, obtain sign-off on the requirements for any new systems you’re designing. By “independent,” I mean someone who collects their salary or an agreed-upon fixed rate consulting fee and no more, no less (i.e., no more, no less in kickbacks in the form of bonuses for sending business someone’s way or increasing even their own company’s headcount on a project (yes, I’m looking at you big “consulting companies” that provide way too many resources and sell vaporware that you then spend decades developing and maintaining in-house before transitioning the now oudated system over to in-house staff–or preferrably, your off-shore subsidiary as a legacy system));

    Make sure your BAs and project managers know how to manage and administer change orders so that you’re not constantly moving a wall three inches to the right, then left, then back again–and wondering why you’ve exceeded your budget during the first quarter; and

    Probably most importantly, if you’re going for “transparency,” it’d be nice if the citizens of this state got that feature first. Always demoralizing to get “classfied” (whether labeled same per definition or treated as same per current “best” practices) from overseas. Especially when it’s your own personal information.

    And if you can’t, or refuse to, meet that last objective (i.e., ensuring that the State of Illinois controls maintenance and distribution of the data to the benefit of its Citizens, then forget about even attempting to meet the first two objectives.

    Instead, show your transparency by issuing a press release that says you’re handing control of the data (and thereby to a great degree, control of the State itself) over to a foreign country for their benefit. We’ll respect you more for that…

    ….really.


  23. - titan - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:29 pm:

    I’ve helped a lot of people with these forms through the years. If you’re a pay check to pay check employee (like most people), the odds are that the “N/A” answer is fully truthful to the vast majority of questions.


  24. - Judgment Day (Road Trip) - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:30 pm:

    Three years ago I got together a small development group and in about 3 weeks, we had a fully browser based LAMP environment for Counties to handle their Statement of Economic Interest forms and reporting. Worked beautifully.

    Went nowhere. Only conclusion I can draw from numerous conversations is that it was way, way too innovative - too ‘computery’. Just as an aside, one fairly constant objection was that people required to file would provide incorrect/incomplete/invalid data if it was all handled online. To which my (admittedly flippant) response was “How would you be able to tell?”

    Seriously, it went nowhere because first off, the entire process is nothing but an irritant to the County Clerk’s offices, and all the other groups who have to make sure such annual filings occur. It’s just more paper.

    Plus, currently (and as noted), the entire process is as clear as mud, nobody wants to be seen as providing legal advice on the ‘questions’, and to make matters worse, most of the time these forms fall in the same time period as both elections and real estate tax extension work by the Clerk.

    So, what do you think is going to take priority?

    Honestly, the biggest impediments to progress in using cloud based technology at the state level are (a) CMS, and (b) Internal Auditors within departments. Everybody is so convinced that it’s not ’secure’ (and can’t possibly be secured), so nobody is ready to do anything. Looking at it from outside, the State is in a hell of a mess - but if they can’t jump all the way to perfect, they aren’t moving. May not make much sense in reality, but… whatever.

    We’ve just extremely recently put together browser based apps (LAMP) for both tax exempt bonds and West Nile virus, so we’ll see if anything has changed. Not holding my breath, though…


  25. - Endangered Moderate Species - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:36 pm:

    I am surprised the 75% number isn’t much higher. There must be more government employees doing business with State vendors than I had guessed.


  26. - Judgment Day (Road Trip) - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:37 pm:

    Sorry, LAMP = Linus (open source operating system), Apache (open source webserver software), mySQL (open source backend; database), and PHP (Hypertext Pre-Programming; open source software development language).

    Got to stay away from all the IT acronyms.


  27. - Excessively Rabid - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:10 pm:

    ==County and below websites are truly atrocious.==

    Please note the very nice work done by the Sangamon County Clerk, of whom I am not otherwise a fan, on this.


  28. - titan - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:16 pm:

    @Moderate Endangered Species - a lot of the 25% non-”N/A” answers are essentially bogus “over answering”. Noting that one has a spouse employed by another public body or have money in a mutual fund that holds some GM or Ford stock (and the State buys some GM or Ford cars) or such - things that could have been answered “n/A” but the employee isn’t sure about and gives the “over answer” to so no one can say he/she wrongly left it off.


  29. - amalia - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:28 pm:

    poor Illinois Legislature. you created a system for legislation that many of you still think is great. lost in the way past, as in over 20 years ago.


  30. - G'Kar - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:56 pm:

    For years I have served on my small town’s public library board. For four years I was on the regional Alliance Library System board and fill out those forms every year. I’m sure I speak for the rest of us on these boards that we have answered N/A on all the questions, as it is irrelevant to us. We are volunteers. How many 1,000 of other Illinoisans are serving as volunteers on boards who also find these forms to be a pain in the rear end?


  31. - Rod - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:58 pm:

    Sen. Dan Kotowski filed SB 3941 on Nov 29, yet by Dec 4 it is not co-sponsored. Is the concept not popular?


  32. - DuPage Dave - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 6:14 pm:

    This is the first time I’ve been disappointed in Sheila Simon. This proposal is complete baloney. As several commenters have noted, the reason 75 percent or more of the responses are “none” or “n/a” is that the questions don’t apply to typical state workers.

    In recent years, the requirement to complete this form has increased to many, many low-level staff. 15 years ago I was the only person in my unit at DHS to complete the form. Now almost everyone is required to complete it.

    State workers don’t own businesses on the side, don’t get dinners from lobbyists, don’t contribute much of anything to any campaigns.

    The implication that workers are submitting false information or just avoiding telling the truth is offensive. The form is not just aimed at “high-ranking employees” as per Simon’s statement.

    Kotowski is the brains behind the simplistic “budget for results” effort that anyone who’s been around more than 10 years has seen twice under other names. I’ve met him and he seems sincere, but going after state workers on the truthfulness of their economic interest statements is distasteful.

    The quote from the News-Gazette is just plain wrong-headed: “people filling the forms out do not fear being held accountable for their misstatements”. If you don’t own a business, don’t have another job, don’t have a spouse on a public payroll- the correct answer is “not applicable”.

    This kind of baloney coming from two good Democrats just makes me sick to my stomach.


  33. - Old timer - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 6:24 pm:

    They need to investigate the program that pays kids to stay in school


  34. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 8:27 pm:

    -this proposal is complete baloney-

    An excellent summary, DD.

    In addition to being baloney-filled unadulterated hooey, this idea appears to be an answer to a question no one has been asking.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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        * On Elected School Boards and Horseshoes..
        * 2015 Equality Illinois Freedom Award to honor T.....
        * Some Rauner Plans Still A Mystery..
        * BGA Cautiously Optimistic..
        * EqIL PAC announces endorsements..
        * Rauner at IFB Annual Meeting..


        * George Ryan: Cuba relations will open markets
        * Freud's goal: Keep Chicago's Lyric Opera relevant
        * APNewsBreak: Judge rejects NCAA concussions deal
        * Video game developer to open studio in New Orleans
        * U. of Illinois to sexual assault group starts work
        * Durbin: US, Cuba diplomatic ties 'long overdue'
        * Official: Convicted killer slain in Illinois prison
        * Topinka remembered as honest, tough at memorial
        * Senate approves NATO-trial prosecutor for US bench
        * New trial linked to disgraced judge gets underway

        * Chicago couple convicted of stealing state grants
        * Topinka remembered as tough, honest leader at memorial service
        * Illinois employers reminded of income-tax rollback
        * Memorial service for Topinka begins in suburban Chicago
        * Police use vacant Jacksonville site to train for worst-case scenarios
        * State-grant fraud case in hands of federal jury
        * Gov.-elect Rauner says some agency directors may stay
        * Attorney blames couple's bookkeeper in state grant fraud case
        * Attorney general: Quinn, Rauner each should name comptrollers, then voters choose in 2016
        * Prosecutor: Chicago couple bought cars, paid son’s mortgage with grant money

        * Kirkland attorney Garcia quits World Cup probe
        * Law school enrollment plummets to 27-year low
        * Kraft names John Cahill new CEO
        * Kraft CEO to step down
        * State crackdown on power suppliers ensnares New York firm


        * Just in time for Christmas: GOP selling Dick Cheney cowboy hats
        * George Ryan applauds move on Cuba, says will be good for Illinois
        * China's second richest man to build third-tallest building
        * Vladimir Putin is nearly twice as popular as Barack Obama
        * Jimmy Carter praises Obama for 'political courage' on Cuba
        * Obama guidance, press schedule, Dec. 18, 2014
        * Unemployment applications drop to lowest point since October
        * Obama smokes a Cuban on New York Post cover
        * Will Congress stonewall Obama on Cuba? Not likely
        * Fire Chicago cop with rap sheet, Supt. Garry McCarthy urges


        * Garrett Popcorn reaches settlement in Chicago Mix dispute, court records show
        * Two Wisconsin girls in Slenderman case to appear in court hearings
        * Police captain talks of getting shot at standoff: Next time I'll duck better
        * A look at plans for Chinese developer's massive skyscraper on Chicago River
        * Father of 3 slain on way home from work: ''We were supposed to get presents and put up the tree''
        * Former Park Ridge tutor found with child pornography
        * Proposed NCAA concussion settlement denied by federal judge
        * Chicago couple found guilty in grant scam case with ties to Obama friend Whitaker
        * Obama had trouble getting cabs in Chicago, first lady says
        * Four similar commercial burglaries hit Irving Park, Mayfair


        * In 'up-and-coming' area, what's the tipping point for gentrification?
        * 'Uber-gentrification' a force in Chicago's West Loop
        * Illinois Republican: Cuba Agreement "Good First Step"
        * Obama: US re-establishing relations with Cuba
        * Obama re-establishing US relations with Cuba
        * Sangamon Auditorium: Beware Second Party Ticket Brokers
        * Real-estate developer in hot area sees bright future — and displacement
        * Worries rise in Russia as ruble falls
        * Rauner Named Nation's Most Influential Pension Figure
        * Recent incidents cast doubt on Hammond police accountability, critics say


        * Bernard Schoenburg: Schmidt considers challenging Sgro for park board president
        * Brian Sauder: Faithful decisions for the holidays
        * Eugene Robinson: The price of being hacked
        * George Will: A Texas-sized license plate dispute
        * Quote of the day: Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014
        * Chicago couple convicted of stealing state grants
        * Topinka remembered as tough, honest leader at memorial service
        * Illinois employers reminded of income-tax rollback
        * Quote of the day: Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014
        * Police use vacant Jacksonville site to train for worst-case scenarios


        * Centralia man indicted by feds on gun theft charges
        * Murphysboro teachers take procedural step toward strike
        * Normal library race off to slow start
        * Kraft Foods CEO to retire; Cahill named successor
        * Q&A: Drones might help explain how tornadoes form
        * Reformers target traffic courts in Ferguson
        * Sony cyberattack may be costliest ever
        * Tsarnaev appears in court for 1st time since 2013
        * More than 70 new jobs coming to Scott AFB because of $59 million software contract
        * Meeting in Carbondale tonight to discuss solar array


        * Not much chance of Congress stopping Cuba policy
        * Jimmy Carter call US-Cuba diplomacy ‘courageous'
        * Pope praises the diplomacy of US-Cuba accord
        * Analysis: US was at odds with world over Cuba policy
        * Cubans hope for better future with US-Havana deal

        * Roskam Lands High-Profile House Post After...
        * Roskam secures Ways and Means oversight po...
        * Roskam snags House oversight post - Crain'...
        * Area family receives Congressional Award
        * Rauner: 'I look forward to working very cl...
        * Davis cheers Cuba move
        * Last Navy frigate at Everett to be decommi...
        * Suspect in Port Angeles toy theft arrested
        * Mark Reardon: Illinois Congressman Rodney ...
        * 121514-blm-loc-1guard

        * Not much chance of Congress stopping Cuba ......
        * The Killeen Daily Herald...
        * Reaction to release of Alan Gross, future ......
        * Galesburg veterans facility named in honor......

        * Obama signs legislation naming veterans fa......
        * Why is he so upset? Because of the secret ......
        * Galesburg VA clinic renamed after Lane Evans...
        * Senate Confirms Vivek Murthy As Surgeon Ge......

        * Dienhart: Lucas Museum of the Narrative Arts
        * Where's Weyermuller? Celebrating the holidays with Illinois GOP
        * Unions File Suit To Block Chicago Pension Measure
        * Pawar Urges Emanuel To Move On Independent Budget Office
        * Foster: The Questionable value of the War on Drugs
        * Madison County, Illinois named one of the nation's five worst “judicial hellholes”
        * Illinois Cuba Working Group: state’s agriculture, business benefits from trade
        * Former ILGOP chair to head Springfield office of government affairs firm
        * U.S. Senator Mark Kirk Ends Navy Service with Official Ceremony in Pentagon
        * Illinois businesses to pay more for “captive insurance” exchanges


        * Governor Quinn Statement Commemorating First Night of Hanukkah
        * Illinois Observes National Impaired Driving Prevention Month - December designated to educate communities about the numerous risks associated with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
        * The Illinois Office Of The State Fire Marshal Promotes Fire Safety During The Holiday Season - Christmas Trees and Decorations Could Pose Risks of Fires
        * Honoring Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka
        * Governor Quinn Announces Illinois Wins $80 Million Federal Investment for Early Childhood Education - Preschool Development Grant to Support Governor’s Birth to Five Initiative




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