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Question of the day

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* This doesn’t look like too bad of a deal for Dixon even with the healthy cut to the city’s attorneys

The city reached a $40 million out-of-court settlement this morning with its auditors and bank it said were to blame for former Comptroller Rita Crundwell’s theft of nearly $54 million in city funds over two decades.

Mayor Jim Burke made the announcement this morning during a special meeting of the Dixon City Council, during which the council approved the settlement.

The agreement was reached Friday in Chicago, Burke said.

Including about $10 million more the city expects to receive from the sale of Crundwell’s assets, the city could recover about $50 million. The city’s attorneys will receive about $10 million from the settlement, meaning Dixon actually would recover about $40 million.

* Rita Crundwell…

* The Question: Caption?

- Posted by Rich Miller   58 Comments      


Time to get the lead out

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* From my old buddy Michael Hawthorne at the Tribune

Dangerous levels of lead are turning up in Chicago homes where pipes made of the toxic metal were disturbed by street work or plumbing repairs, according to a new federal study that suggests the city’s aggressive efforts to modernize its water system could inadvertently pose health risks.

The problem starts with lead service lines that Chicago installed across the city until the mid-1980s to connect water mains with homes. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that spikes of lead can leach into tap water when those pipes are altered by water main replacements, meter installations or street work.

High levels can be found in tap water for years afterward, the EPA study found, raising concerns that other cities with lead pipes could face similar problems.

Most homeowners likely are unaware they could be drinking tainted water. Under federal rules, utilities rarely are required to warn residents that work is being done or tell them they can take steps to reduce their exposure to lead. A potent neurotoxin, lead can damage the brains of young children, lower IQ and trigger learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life. [Emphasis added.]

* I bolded that phrase because Kevin Drum wrote a fascinating story earlier this year about how several studies have found a seemingly direct correlation (with an astonishingly accurate 20-year lag) between gasoline lead emissions and the gigantic crime explosion that began in the 1960s. A chart

Make absolutely sure to go read the whole thing when you have time.

Lead abatement may or may not reduce crime. It may just be too early to tell. But it most certainly will have a positive impact on health.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      


Money pledged for groups stripped of funding after gay marriage dustup

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* Mark Brown

Those immigrant advocacy groups that lost funding from a Catholic charity in a tussle with Cardinal George and the Archdiocese of Chicago over gay marriage may get their money after all — but from somebody else.

A group of progressive charitable foundations — active in both the immigration reform and marriage equality movements — will step up Wednesday to announce creation of an emergency fund to replace the $300,000 stripped from member organizations of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

I’m glad to see that somebody has got these folks’ back.

As you’ve read here previously, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, cut off funding to those organizations this summer after the coalition endorsed same-sex marriage legislation pending before the Illinois General Assembly.

The cutoff included funds to such worthwhile programs as Bikes N’ Roses, an initiative of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, which operates a free bike repair clinic that trains young people as bike mechanics. Punishing them was just plain senseless.

Now coming to their rescue will be the newly-formed Solidarity Fund, which will be operated through the Crossroads Fund of Chicago — with involvement from Fred Eychaner’s Alphawood Foundation, Chicago Foundation for Women, the Gill Foundation and the Pierce Family Foundation.

Look, I understand that some folks were outraged by this, but the Catholic Campaign, like any organization, has the right to withdraw funding from coalition partners that aren’t fully on board with its program. The immediate need was to find alternative funding. It’s been found, at least for now.

…Adding… I put this in comments after some criticism about this post…

I stand by what I wrote.

But what none of you have caught onto yet is that this is exactly what I said when the state cut off funding for Catholic Charities after that group refused to cooperate with the civil unions law on adoption and foster care.

The Cardinal and the Bishops would do well to stop complaining about that state action when they take these sorts of actions against others.

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      


Beavers gets six months, $10K fine

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* District Judge James Zagel has sentenced Bill Beavers to six months in prison for his conviction on four counts of tax evasion

Former Cook County Commissioner William Beavers was sentenced to six months in prison this morning for failing to pay taxes on tens of thousands of dollars he took out of his campaign fund and used for gambling and other personal expenses.

The sentence is far short of the 21 months requested by prosecutors. Beavers was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and just under $39,000 in back taxes. […]

In recommending a sentence of 21 months in prison, prosecutors in a recent court filing portrayed the outspoken former police officer and alderman as someone who abused the trust placed in him as a public official despite “maintaining a front row seat for the long and sordid history of public corruption in Chicago and Illinois.”

“As an elected official for over 30 years, Beavers saw many of his fellow Chicago aldermen – as well as numerous state and local officials – convicted of public corruption crimes, and he had reason to appreciate the impact such corruption has had on the public’s faith in government,” prosecutors wrote.

* Background

Beavers was accused of using his political campaign accounts from 2006 until 2008 as a “slush fund” to swell his pension and for losing gambling sprees at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, then failing to pay taxes on those withdrawals.

But he claimed he’d merely loaned himself the money. Beavers also blamed the county for failing to report $30,000 in expense checks that he took as income. Nevertheless, his conviction cost him his seat on the County Board

Beavers initially claimed that he was being prosecuted because he wouldn’t wear a wire for the feds, whom Beavers said were after John Daley. From last year…

John Daley said he was surprised at what he characterized as Beavers’ attempt to change the story.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Daley said.

He said Beavers never approached him to say that any federal agents had asked Beavers to wear a wire on him. Looking at the indictment against Beavers, Daley said: “It’s pretty obvious what this is about, and this has nothing to do with me. I have never taken my [commissioner’s expense account] from Day 1.”

Daley said Beavers appeared to be throwing Daley’s name up Thursday in an attempt to change the story.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


A totally messed up system

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* More details on Bryon Champ, who was allegedly wounded by a rival gang member before allegedly taking part in a mass shooting in a Chicago park

Champ’s criminal record includes a 2012 conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and a 2011 conviction for receiving stolen property. He was sentenced to Cook County Jail boot camp for the gun-possession conviction and had received probation in the other case, records show.

In the 2012 case, police had responded to a report of someone being shot and saw Champ running through a gangway with a gun in his hand, according to court records. When police arrested Champ a short while later, he was carrying a .40-caliber semi-automatic gun loaded with 10 rounds and one in the chamber, records show.

So Champ gets sent to boot camp, but Edward Hambrick, who had a valid FOID card and an out of state concealed carry permit, languished 14 months in the Cook County jail after being busted for having a loaded gun in his car.

It makes me wanna scream.

* And then there’s this

Brian Otero spent nearly two years in Cook County Jail waiting to go to trial for a burglary. The jury found him not guilty, but he didn’t get to leave the courtroom like they do on TV. No, he was brought back into the Cook County Jail to be “processed” out. He was put in a small cell just off the front of the courtroom, to eventually be brought back into the jail.

Now remember, at this point, there are no charges against Otero, yet he’s being detained against his will because that’s just how we’ve always done it in Cook County. Defendants who have been held in jail awaiting trial are brought back into the jail. They can be handcuffed, searched, and locked back up in their cell even though there are no charges against them.

Sheriff Tom Dart and county officials are doing little to change the seemingly unconstitutional practice and that could cost taxpayers millions

On his way back into the jail after acquittal, Otero was put in a holding cell with a number of other inmates and three men attacked him.

“They approached me and asked me, ‘Did you win your case, are you going home today?’” Otero said in an interview in his attorney’s Loop law office. “Upon me saying ‘yes’ one of them swung at me and when he swung at me the other two grabbed me and they started hitting me all over my body.” […]

Otero was eventually brought back to his cell, to wait. Ten hours after he was acquitted he was finally released from the jail.

Fingers are pointing everywhere

But even if the sheriff’s office makes the technological leap to the 1990s in all 17 courthouses, the rest of the Cook County court system under Clerk of Courts Dorothy Brown is pretty solidly stuck in the 70s. The whole court system is paper and carbon copies. That presents a problem for Lt. Charles Luna when he’s supposed to release someone from the jail.

And

While it’s Sheriff Dart who is detaining people, it’s Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez who tells Dart what he needs to do to comply with the constitution. For two weeks Alvarez’s office has failed to provide WBEZ with any explanation as to whether the current practices are constitutional, or what her office is doing to ensure Cook County doesn’t have to pay out millions in settlements arising from this practice of detaining people after they’ve been found not guilty.

- Posted by Rich Miller   50 Comments      


It’s never as simple as it looks

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* From a Tribune editorial

[Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s] point: Illinois needs stricter gun laws, and it needs to enforce its gun laws, to ensure that criminals know possessing a gun on the street carries dire consequences.

Here’s the frustrating part: A bill to do just that went nowhere in the legislature this year. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Chicago, would have set stiffer sentences for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and for gun crimes committed by felons. It would have required that offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

McCarthy, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported the bill. Had it been in place last year, Champ would have been sent to prison, not boot camp, for running around his neighborhood with a loaded gun. […]

This spring, the General Assembly was intensely preoccupied on legislation to permit the concealed carry of firearms. Zalewski’s bill to crack down on illegal gun possession got out of a House committee but then languished. Some Democrats opposed the stiff mandatory sentencing requirements, and some Republicans refused to back it before they passed a concealed carry law. Zalewski tells us he didn’t have the votes to pass his bill. […]

So here we are. Another national embarrassment for Chicago. Another senseless crime. Thirteen people wounded. The trauma extends well beyond those 13 people. It extends to their friends, to their families, to their neighbors, to everyone who has to think twice about whether he or she will catch a random bullet when gangbangers go after each other. […]

Zalewski said he plans to reintroduce his bill during the fall veto session. It should pass without a single “no” vote. Not … one.

* But Todd Vandermyde of the NRA posted a couple of notes in comments yesterday about that bill. I’ve fixed most of the typos to make it easier to read

We offered the City an 85% 3-year term on Felons in possession last session, we were turned down because they wanted the whole thing to include those without a carry permit when we didn’t have one.

And

We as the NRA could work on and support the “felons in possession” issue. The Cook County State’s Attorney often tosses the Aggravated UUW or UUW as part of the plea deal for whatever reason.

I tried to pare down the issue to “bad guys with guns.” But they were so invested in the Plaxico Burress version they didn’t seem to care.

* I asked Rep. Zalewski for a response…

As I mentioned to the Chicago Tribune, a number of members expressed concern last Spring about voting for HB2265 in light of the ongoing conceal carry debate.

I, as the sponsor, had numerous constructive conversations with those members, along with Todd Vandermyde, chief legislative liaison for the NRA, in an effort to see if those members’ concerns could be addressed in the bill.

Unfortunately, there was never a meeting of the minds. As is my practice, I will continue to look for common ground in an effort to get the bill passed.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Racing board wants state to pony up big bucks

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* Tribune

Uncertainty reigned Tuesday after the Illinois Racing Board drafted the 2014 thoroughbred and harness racing schedules.

Taking into account the possibility that funds may not be available to enable the Racing Board to regulate racing, Chairman William Berry made a motion to approve four alternative schedules and it passed by an 8-1 vote.

•Under the best-case scenario, the 2014 schedule will bear a striking resemblance to the 2013 slate with 466 dates at the state’s five pari-mutuel tracks.

•Under the worst-case scenario, next year’s schedule will bear no resemblance to this year’s thoroughbred and harness dates, consisting of a combined total of 87 programs and leaving the state with only one harness track. [Emphasis added.]

Not mentioned in the Trib’s dot points is that the “best-case scenario” includes a “supplemental state payment” of at least $725,000.

* The problem has been the lack of Internet wagering income for over five months this year and uncertainty over next year

The board depends on account-wagering handle for part of its funding and lost about $725,000 when the law permitting account-wagering companies to operate in Illinois was allowed to expire Jan. 31 and wasn’t restored until June 7. Unaltered, the law expires again on Jan. 31, so the board can’t know if it will have enough money to fulfill its statutory obligations for a full racing season.

The board will request a supplemental payment from the state to plug the hole left by the 2013 account-wagering shutdown, and the legislature, when it meets for a fall session starting Oct. 22, will be asked to extend the account-wagering law. How racing is conducted next year in Illinois depends on how much of that money actually flows to the IRB. Because of the uncertainty the board approved four possible schedules.

What a screw up this was.

* In other news, Phil Kadner looks at video gaming’s growth

There now are 9,794 [video gaming] machines operating at 2,402 locations, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, which is the equivalent of adding nine casinos. […]

But an entirely new industry has emerged in recent months, video cafes, designed specifically to appeal to the gambler.

Although most of these offer food and alcoholic drinks, they’re marketed as places where suburbanites can lose their money in comfortable surroundings without being bothered by drunks.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is so concerned about the increase in video gambling in her village that she has asked the state senator from the area to introduce legislation that could limit the number of locations.

Oak Lawn appears to be the leader in the Southland in the number of sites with video gambling, having 18 locations and 83 video machines.

In August, gamblers lost $319,338 in the machines, producing $15,966 in tax revenue for Oak Lawn and $79,834 for the state.

I was talking with somebody who owns several locations that have video gaming machines, and he said he hopes the Legislature passes a bill to limit the number of new machines and locations. Why? Because such a law would mean less competition for him.

* Back to Kadner

I’ve always been a free-market guy when it comes to legalized gambling. So long as the operations have no ties to organized crime and the machines pay off as advertised, I think they should be allowed to proliferate.

By limiting the number of casinos, all the state has done is give a small group of people a license to make lots of money.

Now, they have some competition in video gambling, and businesses in the suburbs are getting a piece of the action.

But the law of supply and demand is still being denied by elected officials, who seem to believe they can limit vice by tightly regulating it.

Agreed.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Rockford, Kankakee still mired in real estate woes

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

* From CBS Money Watch

Using data compiled for CBSNews.com by a real estate analytics provider, we looked not only at cities where home prices have the farthest to go to climb back to their pre-bubble peak, but also where prices are still declining.

* At the “top” of their list are two Illinois cities. Ranked second least likely to recover from the real estate crash is Rockford

Growth needed to match peak: 31.5 percent
Growth this year: -3 percent

And number one is Kankakee

Growth needed to match peak: 39.2 percent
Growth this year: -3.5 percent

* Back to the narrative

Residents of two cities in Illinois have the bleakest prospects of seeing home prices rebound. The state’s high unemployment rate is the biggest factor restraining prices. At the peak of the recession, Rockford’s jobless rate shot up to a whopping 20 percent unemployment rate, and it remains high at around 10 percent.

Kankakee faces a similar problem as Rockford, Ill. The population is stagnant and its unemployment rate hasn’t been below 10 percent since mid-2008. Even selling the city’s many foreclosed properties is unlikely to boost home prices much. Unless the city sees a serious economic turnaround, it will be nearly impossible to recover that 39 percent drop in home values.

Oy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      


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Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013

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