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Question of the day

Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014

* The SJ-R looks at Illinois Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza’s investigation of State Fair Director Amy Bliefnick for accepting free beer tickets

“There is no evidence that she schemed to obtain the tickets,” the report said. “Rather, the unsolicited gift of beer tickets from the vendor to the fair director appears to be a long-standing, albeit unlawful, practice.”

The report said that the 2013 contract with CVA expressly says that free tickets are not to be given to anyone.

For statute-of-limitation purposes, Bliefnick was only charged with violating the gift ban during the 2013 fair when she accepted at least 120 beer tickets valued at $540. Each ticket is worth $4.50.

The report said Bliefnick distributed the tickets to senior Department of Agriculture officials, her staff, fair volunteers and fair patrons.

The report said the Department of Agriculture suspended Bliefnick for two days without pay based on allegations in the report. The suspension cost her about $754, it said.

“As noted in the report, as State Fair manager I accepted the tickets for distribution only to promote the fair,” Bliefnick said in a statement. “This practice will no longer continue at the fair. I learned a valuable lesson and look forward to a great State Fair this year.”

The full report is here.

* The Question: Your thoughts on this particular investigation and punishment of Bliefnick?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

53 Comments
  1. - Leave a Light on George - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:37 pm:

    Isn’t ironic that Blago is the one who put all these ethics standards in writing and instituted training on them?


  2. - Soccermom - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:38 pm:

    How much did the OEIG’s office spend to achieve a $754 penalty? Sheesh.


  3. - downstate demo - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:40 pm:

    Amy comes from a well known Decatur business family.
    She thought she was promoting the fair by giving away the tickets. She was punished enough.


  4. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:45 pm:

    Um, I thought the gift ban act did not apply to food and beverages consumed on the premises? So, unless she drank more than $100 worth of beer herself, I am not sure I understand what the Ethics violation was.


  5. - DuPage - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:49 pm:

    I think Meza is trying to justify his job. I think he should be fired.

    The beer tickets were not for her personal consumption. She did not drink the beer, keep or sell the tickets. They were given away by her to promote the fair. I would rank that like other give away items like promotional pens, pencils, key chains, etc.


  6. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:52 pm:

    A real high crime uncovered by Meza here.


  7. - Judgment Day - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    If this is what the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission routinely does, they need to be defunded, all employees permanently laid off, and all funding for this ‘program’ set aside instead for payment of outstanding state debts.

    We used to describe people like this as being “The type who go onto the battlefield after the war is lost and shoot the wounded”.

    In other words, completely useless when you have to get the job done.

    Amy, hold your head up. You did the job in spite of the bureaucratic paper pushers.


  8. - Curmudgeon - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 12:57 pm:

    Quoting Ms. Tallulah Bankhead: “There’s less to this than meets the eye.”


  9. - D.P.Gumby - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    Stupid and total waste of time. Just when the OEIG has an apparently good case w/ the DuQuoin case, they muddle their message w/ this case calling their whole purpose into question.


  10. - Toure's Latte - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:02 pm:

    Fighting tooth and nail with the BGA for Most Irrelevant Better Government Advocate.


  11. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:03 pm:

    A truly gifted probe. About as good as the report against Metra that exposed a 30+ year old practice that ended. Wonder what will happen when Meza get the Handout Andy report on Bill Roberts….curtains. There should be a footnote on how much gets spent on these stunning disclosures.


  12. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:06 pm:

    I think she’s been punished more than enough. $1,000 fine and $754 in pay and a two day suspension. What exactly justified that level of punishment I have no idea. This to me seems a minor infraction that has been blown completely out of proportion. Should she have been punished? Yes. Should she have been punished to the level she was and been the subject of an OEIG investigation? Absolutely not. This should have been something that could have been taken care of at the department level. Complete and utter waste of OEIG time.


  13. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:07 pm:

    Reminds me of a local ethos issue where thousands of dollars worth of tickets were give to town trustees. The response WS that they received no personal benefit, they just gave them to their family


  14. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:08 pm:

    This one is pretty silly. The other one, not so much.


  15. - phocion - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:09 pm:

    Overreach by OEIG and overkill by Ag. Shame on both of them.


  16. - William j Kelly - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:17 pm:

    As part of Bliefnick’s punishment she should be forced to consult on how every state in the union operates their state fairs, because it sounds like she knows want she’s doing!


  17. - Observation - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:23 pm:

    “The report said that the 2013 contract with CVA expressly says that free tickets are not to be given to anyone.”
    I guess that did not include the Fair Manager? What concerns me more is that she did not realize that it was prohibited by the contract. Who is signing things out there? Doesn’t anyone bother to read the contract first? Are there other mishaps with the implementation of contracts?


  18. - Wensicia - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:25 pm:

    I don’t think this warrants a suspension on her record. At worst, just ask her to pay for the tickets. Best, a simple warning and let it go.


  19. - FLMKC - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:26 pm:

    Ethics rules, gift ban, procurement rules and contract specifically states no free tickets. She got punished. What about the vendor, they violated the contract. Furthermore, statute of limitations, seriously, in an administrative case?

    Even furthermore, we have to give free beer to promote our fair. We know what was promoted here…


  20. - PoolGuy - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:30 pm:

    technically, didn’t CVA violate the terms of the contract by giving out free tickets they knew they weren’t supposed to? no punishment for that? granted i think this particular matter is pretty frivolous anyway.


  21. - LincolnLounger - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:31 pm:

    I’m pretty sure the ethics training she and every state employee are required to complete covers subject such as these.

    It’s nice Amy and Junior Rednour thought they were entitled to have some “here ya goes” at their disposal, but this is depriving the taxpayers of revenue and is not acceptable.

    I’m surprised at all the tsk tsking going on here excusing this away.


  22. - Norseman - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:33 pm:

    === She thought she was promoting the fair by giving away the tickets. ===

    The report said she distributed “the tickets to senior Department of Agriculture officials, her staff, fair volunteers and fair patrons”. I’ll give her promotion credit for distributing to volunteers and fair patrons, but giving them to State staff is not for promotion purposes (other than to promote herself to superiors).

    Was this a legit investigation? Yes. Was it small potatoes? Yes.

    I do think the penalty was excessive. I especially love the way her superiors who were benefiting from her “unethical” practice suspended her. I wonder how many times senior Ag staff get free concert tix?

    This essentially falls under the category of “we always did it that way.”


  23. - John Boch - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:36 pm:

    In a state known for its corruption, is this incident merely a distraction from *real* corruption?

    You can’t swing a cat inside Chicago’s City Hall without hitting two or three corruption scandals just waiting to be uncovered.

    Yet we’ve got someone “going after” this woman over ten dozen free beer tickets?

    Crikey. More evidence Illinois government priorities are badly out of whack.

    John


  24. - Bob - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:42 pm:

    The Govs office had to sign off on the sanction. I wonder if anyone on second floor ever received a free concert pass or beer ticket…..or all access pass.


  25. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:48 pm:

    ==but this is depriving the taxpayers of revenue==

    If you can show how this deprived the taxpayers of any revenue I’m all ears.

    ==I’m surprised at all the tsk tsking going on here excusing this away.==

    Not excusing it away. Questioning the severity of the punishment and the use of the OEIG to investigate this when it could have been handled at the department level. She should have been punished. IMO she was too harshly punished, but whatever. It’s over now and everybody needs to move on.


  26. - A guy... - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:58 pm:

    She learned her lesson and seems none the worse for wear. Admitted a mistake in judgement. The punishment was probably appropriate enough to serve as a good example and it didn’t devastate her. She’s still got a job. If you don’t look the other way on the little stuff, it will be habit forming in not looking the other way on the big stuff. It worked out how it should have.


  27. - carbaby - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:58 pm:

    Ironically in the nonprofit world I call this an “inkind” donation and any development department does this as a regular function. Just like our agency may be invited to political functions and the agency will send a staff person with a free ticket to the event.
    When I worked in Champaign at a store, our liquor vendors would always give us tickets to the tailgate tents at U of I games- free food and drinks.
    If anyone has ever read any of the OEIG investigations, I would say many of them are of this variety. There’s not a lot of bang for your taxpayer buck going on there. I’ve read several in the last couple years and am of the opinion that it is overall a waste of taxpayer money. DCFS OIG has historically had an Ethics officer within the office. If other OIG offices also have one, that makes that entire office redundant.


  28. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:03 pm:

    You run government like a business and they crucify you for it.

    ==- John Boch - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 1:36 pm:==

    In case you don’t understand the levels of government, the state OEIG does not have jurisdiciton over Chicago City Hall.


  29. - Anon. - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:06 pm:

    ==How much did the OEIG’s office spend to achieve a $754 penalty? Sheesh.==

    If they’re doing their jobs, sometimes they will spend a decent amount of money determining that nothing wrong was done and no penalty was owed.


  30. - PolPal56 - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:17 pm:

    It seems to me that, proportionally, Bliefnick was punished more severely than Rednour, and he actively solicited a much, much larger number of tickets.


  31. - DuPage - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:20 pm:

    @PublicServant12:52=A real high crime uncovered by Meza here.=
    I agree, it’s right up there with the “eating food while at their desk” finding.


  32. - Ahoy! - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:22 pm:

    I understand the investigation because this is probably a prime opportunity for government to overstep its powers and use it for extortion. Regarding this incident, I don’t even think it should have been punishable. If the long standing practice is to not do it anymore, tell Amy to not accept the gifts anymore (a warning) and move on. If she was warned and did it again, that’s one thing, but that does not appear to be the case, punishment did not fit the extremely minor infraction.


  33. - Lil Squeezy - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:26 pm:

    I am pretty sure free concert tickets are still a thing, and I would guess a lot of free parking passes still get handed out. Best to eliminate, but it seems like Meza probably wasted a lot of time when this is something that could be taken care of quickly.


  34. - x ace - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:27 pm:

    Fine Amount seems OK

    Investigation yielded technical violation

    But 120 tickets not even enough to supply beer to the City of Springfield party group that used to hang out at the East End of the Grandstand during Harness Races.

    So commenter said yesterday ” Mickey Mouse “


  35. - Jake From Elwood - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:27 pm:

    Gift ban applies to gifts received without any need for solicitation. I agree with Ahoy on this one. This one cried out for a warning letter given the rather rich history of “Free Beer for Bureaucrats” that has occurred.


  36. - Lil Squeezy - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:28 pm:

    With that said, volunteers should still get some perks. The fair needs help and it serves a good purpose


  37. - anon - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:37 pm:

    If they were investigating the DuQuoin fair for this beer ticket scheme, I’m sure that mention of the same thing happening at the Springfield fair came up. At that point, how could they not investigate that as well? You can argue what you think the punishment should be all day long. But, I don’t hold the investigation against the OEIG.


  38. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 2:53 pm:

    =The report said that the 2013 contract with CVA expressly says that free tickets are not to be given to anyone.=

    Does that mean CVA will be banned as a vendor? What punishment does CVA receive?


  39. - zatoichi - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 3:02 pm:

    I cannot think of any large event I worked behind the scene where comp did not happen. Bring supplies, work the gates, do set-up/take down, whatever all have some type of comp. Gotta keep the volunteers feeling good so they come back. If this is an ethics problem what about those state employees who took the tickets and used them? They get what, three days off for each beer? Have a talk, write a note, move on.

    Hey, I heard of two state workers who stopped off at a bookstore while driving a state car. That should be a headline.


  40. - LCP45 - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 3:26 pm:

    Ok, organizing the Fair is a ton of work, a thankless job… Is this for real given the scope of self serving corruption in State government? I think not…a lot over the top Meza…


  41. - Bryl Creme - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 3:31 pm:

    Why did Meza refer to the AG?


  42. - Skeptic - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 3:58 pm:

    In my opinion it would be worse if she the free beer had swayed the choice of vendors. That would be your basic quid pro quo. But this? Not so much.


  43. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    I wrote yesterday that this was nonsense, but that the OEIG was kinda stuck once the allegation was dumped in their lap.

    If Amy signed a contract that said plainly no free tickets and she took free tickets then she made a mistake regardless of intent. In the Napoleonic minds of the OEIG, they considered this to be just short of treason when it could have been handled by the Ag Dept.

    What probably happened is that the CVA ratted out Junior after they lost the DuQuoin biz and somewhere later on somebody else said “Oh, by the way..” and the rest is history, tens of thousands of investigative dollars later.

    Abolish the OEIG and give the money to Bill Holland and the State Police.


  44. - OLK 73 - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 4:13 pm:

    Low hanging fruit. It’s worked for Amy Madigan and Anita Alvarez. But don’t even think of going up the chain. The man knows where not to tread.


  45. - Sunshine - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 4:39 pm:

    She is being charged for handing out free beer tickets and promoting the State Fair?

    This is nothing more than a distraction. I think I’ll go get a beer and a couple Vose’s corn dogs, and some Culler’s fries. Might get a pork chop sandwich, a rib eye steak sand3wich, a couple of lemon shakeups, and stop off by the beer tents once again after I pig-out in the Ethnic Village.

    If someone, anyone, is handing out free beer tickets, fine! If it’s the State Fair Manager, better yet!


  46. - Steamer - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 4:52 pm:

    Meza…didn’t he immediately fire a bunch of OEIG staffers after his appointment so he could bring on “his own people”? Every major department has an IG & none of them interact with the OEIG unless called on by them. They don’t know how individual agencies work,…they’re really a waste, given the way they operate! I don’t believe the big shots really want them under covering anything…unless it’s on the other party or a enemy!


  47. - RNUG - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 5:00 pm:

    Re Amy … Much ado about nothing much … and I’ll drink to that!


  48. - DuPage Dave - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 6:02 pm:

    This investigation was a waste of time and effort. Really? A measly $540 worth of beer tickets? Take a step back, Ricardo, and ask yourself whether you’re aiming too low. There’s real corruption out there- go find some.


  49. - Just Me - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 10:30 pm:

    Where is former Senator Susan Garrett? How on earth did this law become passed that the General Assembly appoints their own Inspector General?


  50. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 10:43 pm:

    Just


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