Sunday, August 20, 2017

Chrysler VP bribes UAW


Feds: Fiat Chrysler VP bribed UAW execs 'to take company friendly positions'

Tresa Baldas and Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press Published 6:00 a.m. ET Aug. 19, 2017

The intertwined lives of a UAW official and a Fiat Chrysler executive

Over a period of years, former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli and former UAW Vice President General Holiefield helped to save Chrysler and then stole millions intended for worker training, authorities say. Wochit


(Photo: Detroit Free Press photos)

It started out as a scandal about personal greed.

Fiat Chrysler and UAW executives, authorities said, were scheming together to line their own pockets.

But the scheme, they now claim, had another goal: Helping the company instead of autoworkers, and bribing union officials to get that done.

In an explosive document filed Friday in the growing Fiat Chrysler-UAW scandal, the government said former Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli was bribing union officials to persuade them "to take company-friendly positions."

This new allegation raises the question of whether or not the union's contract and other decisions were influenced by the wrongdoing, potentially undermining the credibility of the contract.

The phrase "company friendly positions," also could relate to how the UAW handled employee grievances, plant specific issues, holiday work and overtime work schedules, training, plant organizational changes and other plant programs.

The government, however, doesn't have to prove that contracts or policies were influenced to convict those charged. It only has to show that auto executives were bribing union officials -- a crime that prosecutors claim Iacobelli pulled off through various financial schemes. One of them, they said, involved giving union officials credit cards to go on shopping sprees whenever they felt like it.

The credit cards, they said,  were issued through the UAW-FCA training center, and paid for everything from designer clothes and $1,000 shoes to a Ferrari and swimming pool.

"Iacobelli said,  'if you see something you want, feel free to buy it. I don't have a problem if you buy it on the charge card,' " prosecutors wrote in a court filing today, adding this was part of a bigger plan to keep senior union officials  "fat, dumb and happy."

The details about Iacobelli's alleged motives surfaced in a new charging document that named a fourth targeted defendant in the case.

Both the UAW and FCA have previously said that the alleged FCA-UAW scam did not affect the contracts.

"It is important for you to know that despite some public commentary to the contrary, the allegations in the indictment in no way call into question the collective bargaining contracts negotiated by our union during this period," UAW President Dennis Williams said last month after the first charges became public.

Said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in a letter to employees last month: "This conduct had nothing whatsoever to do with the collective bargaining process."

Al Iacobelli, former Fiat Chrysler labor chief, right,Buy Photo

Al Iacobelli, former Fiat Chrysler labor chief, right, walks out of the federal courthouse in Detroit on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, with an unidentified woman. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)

Nevertheless, those involved were in positions to influence both contract negotiations and other decisions.

Retired UAW Associate Director Virdell King, the first African-American female to be elected president of a local union in UAW-Chrysler's history, was charged Friday in U.S. District Court today with being part of a conspiracy that involved the theft of more than $4.5 million in autoworker training funds.

King, 65, of Detroit, was a UAW employee who served as a senior offical in the UAW Chrysler Department from 2008 until she retired in 2016.

King was served as a member of the UAW national negotiating committee responsible for the collective bargaining agreements.

King's attorney, John Shea, declined comment.

Iacobelli, as vice president of employee relations for Fiat Chrysler, was the top official in charge of negotiating with the UAW and administering the contract and led contract modifications in 2009 and contract negotiations in 2011.

He was preparing to lead contract negotiations in 2015 until he was fired in June of that year, one month before negotiations were about to start.

Holiefield, as a UAW Vice President in charge of the Chrysler department, also led the UAW’s contract modifications in 2009 and negotiations in 2011.

In 2009, the modifications that Chrysler and the UAW made to their national contract were largely mandated by President Barack Obama's automotive task force. Those changes were made after Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and agreed too receive a government loan.

In 2011, the UAW picked General Motors as its target in national negotiations and model its four-year contract with Chrysler on the results those discussions.

But Holiefield, who died in March 2015, was a polarizing figure who agreed to some policies that many UAW members strongly opposed.

In 2013, Fiat Chrysler adopted a new work schedule at several plants that called for employees to work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

Holiefield brushed off workers concerns about the policy by calling it a "good problem to have." He argued that the the company agreed to hire more workers in return for the UAW agreeing to adopt the new work schedules.

Tresa Baldas can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas.  Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Open Meeting/Municipal Law Questions

Following Q & A are from the website of:

March 2017
What happens if the agenda for an upcoming board meeting was not posted online in advance of the meeting, but was posted at the local government's principal office?

Under the Open Meetings Act, a public body that has a website that is maintained by full-time staff must post all meeting notices and agendas on the public body's website. The website posting requirement is in addition to posting notices and agendas at the public body's principal office or the meeting place if different than the principal office.  However, if a public body fails to post a notice or the agenda of a meeting on its website, that failure will not invalidate any meeting or actions taken at that meeting so long as the public body had properly posted the notice or agenda at the principal office or the meeting place, as the case may be.

October 2016

Can we require residents to remove election signs from their yards 7 days after the election?

Can we require residents to remove election signs from their yards 7 days after the election?

No. State law restricts the ability of municipalities to impose time restrictions on the display of political signs on residential property

February 2016
Can a unit of local government reimburse an elected official or employee for entertainment expenses incurred while at a conference?

No. The Local Government Travel Expense Control Act prohibits local governments (except home rule units) from reimbursing any official or employee for any entertainment expense unless the entertainment is ancillary to the purpose of the program or event. "Entertainment" is defined to include shows, amusements, theaters, circuses, sporting events, or any other place of public or private amusement.

January 2016
Can we limit the total time for public comment at our city council meetings to 30 minutes, and each commenter to 3 minutes?

Yes, so long as the city council has adopted rules for public comment. In a number of advisory opinions, the Public Access Counselor of the Attorney General's Office upheld similar time limitations on public comment. The PAC cautioned, however, that in order to restrict public comment in any way, the public body must have approved public comment rules.  Having a long-standing practice of limiting the time frame for public comment is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement of approved rules, according to the PAC.  So, if your public body has routinely placed restrictions on public comment (time limits, sign-ins, e

December 2015
Can a city council or village board require an individual to register 5 days in advance of a meeting to speak during public comment?

No, according to a binding opinion of the Public Access Counselor of the Illinois Attorney General's office (PAC).  See PAC Op. 14-012 (Sept. 30, 2014).  Although the PAC acknowledged that the Open Meetings Act allows a public body to adopt rules governing public comment, it found a five day advance registration rule unreasonable because it "does not take into account the fact that the public has a statutory right to address the Board."  The PAC determined that the advance sign-up requirement "imposed substantial obstacles for those who wish to speak at the Board's meetings," particularly because the OMA does not require a public body to post agendas until 48 hours before a meeting. 

tc), it should adopt rules for public comment to incorporate those practices.

November 2015
Can a public body begin its meetings with a religious prayer?

Yes, but with limits. The United States Supreme Court has decided many cases on this subject but its decisions do not give clear guidance. If a public body wishes to include a prayer as part of its meeting, here are a few guidelines to follow so as to avoid conflicts with the First Amendment.

  • Seek out clergy from a variety of denominations and faith traditions to lead the prayer.
  • Include a statement at the top of the printed agenda which says that says that the government body "does not endorse religious faith. The prayer is intended to lend solemnity to the public meeting and invite an attitude of respect and consideration."
  • Request the cleric to speak in nonsectarian terms, not referring to any specific denomination or creed, nor advocating particular beliefs, emphasizing the purpose of the prayer as stated on the agenda. If the cleric does not abide by this request, don't invite him/her back.
  • Do not provide compensation to the cleric from public funds
  • Conduct the prayer before the roll call which begins the official meeting. Typically the Pledge of Allegiance is recited before the roll call; this would be the best moment for the prayer.

By: Paul Keller

October 2015
Are school districts subject to local zoning?

Yes.  The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that made it clear that school districts are not exempt from local zoning regulations.  In that case, a school district had installed bleachers at the high school football field that did not comply with the city's height and setback regulations. The school district argued that it was exempt from local zoning. The court disagreed, finding that although schools are exempt from local building codes, they are not exempt from zoning regulations and must, like other property owners, follow zoning regulations and procedures.

August 2015
A board has determined that closed session meeting minutes do not need to remain confidential any longer and wants to approve their release to the public. Must the board also release the tape recordings for those closed session meetings to the public?

No, the board can approve the release of closed session minutes without releasing the closed session tape recordings to the public.  Section 2.06 of the Open Meetings Act requires a public body to record its closed session meetings in the form of an audio or video recording. The OMA states that these "verbatim recordings" are not open for public inspection, except in an action to enforce an alleged violation of the OMA.  These recordings can be approved for destruction not less than 18 months after the meeting, so long as the public body has approved the closed session meeting minutes. 

May 2015
Our city council meetings are held on Tuesday evenings at 6:00 p.m. Is the deadline for posting the notice on the Sunday before the meeting or must we post it by Friday at 6:00 p.m. since Saturday and Sunday are not business days? Also, if Monday is a holiday, does that mean we need to post the notice on the Thursday before the meeting?

The Open Meetings Act requires a public body to post an agenda and notice of a meeting at least 48 hours before the meeting.  So, if a public body meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m., then the notice/agenda must be posted no later than 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday before the meeting, which is 48 hours prior to the meeting.  Because the Act references hours, and not "days" or "business days," you do not skip over the weekend or any holiday in calculating the time period.  A local public body could impose on itself a more restrictive deadline for posting agendas, but that is not statutorily required - the statutory deadline for posting the notice/agenda is 48 hours before the meeting.

April 2015
Can the majority of a quorum of a governmental body attend a conference without violating the Open Meetings Act?

Yes. So long as they do not meet as a group and discuss public business.

January 2015
What do I need to do to comply with the new law that requires us to post elected officials' email addresses on our website?

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly enacted P.A. 98-0930 amending the Local Records Act.  The new law requires all local governments and school districts to post on their websites a mechanism for members of the public to electronically communicate with elected officials.  To comply with the Act, a public body can post either a "uniform single email address" or the individual email addresses of the elected officials.  A "hyperlink" to the email address or addresses must be posted on the home page of the government body's website.  The law becomes effective January 1, 2015, but governments have 90 days to comply with the email posting requirement.

December 2014
Must a public body allow public comment at every meeting, including committee meetings?

Yes, according to the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s Office. In a number of recent opinions, the Public Access Counselor interpreted the Open Meetings Act to require every public body to provide an opportunity for public comment at every meeting open to the public. That includes all meetings of the corporate authorities (i.e., city councils, village boards, park boards, township boards, etc.), all committees of those councils and boards, plan commissions, zoning boards, electoral boards, and any other government board, commission, or body that falls within the definition of a “public body” under the Open Meetings Act. The public comment requirement applies to both regular and special meetings, according to the PAC.

June 2014
Are there prohibitions on elected and appointed officials and city employees accepting free items from vendors doing business with the city, such as tickets to ball games and events, fishing/hunting trips, use of condos during events/trips, etc.?

Yes, Article 10 of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, 5 ILCS 430/10 et seq., regulates the solicitation and acceptance of gifts by government officers and employees.  As a general rule, it is against the law for an elected or appointed official or a government employee to accept a gift from a "prohibited source," which would include a vendor that does business with the city.  The Act does contain a number of exceptions to the gift ban, including, for example, restaurant meals or refreshments that do not exceed $75 in value in a single day, political contributions, and gifts from one prohibited source during a calendar year that have a cumulative value of less than $100, among others.  An officer or employee can avoid violation of the Act by returning the prohibited gift to the prohibited source or giving the gift (or its equivalent) to charity.  Because violations of the Act can result in criminal penalties, officials and employees should consult with their municipal attorney if they have any questions about whether acceptance of a particular gift would violate the Act.  They should also review their local ethics code because some municipalities have enacted gift ban restrictions that are stricter than state law.

Kushner Companies subpoenaed over use of visa program

The Hill logoThe Hill

The Hill

 By Max Greenwood

Kushner Companies subpoenaed over use of visa program: report©

Kushner Companies subpoenaed over use of visa program: report New York federal prosecutors subpoenaed Kushner Companies, the real estate development company owned by the family of President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, over its use of a visa program that offers green cards to wealthy foreign investors.

The subpoena was received by Kushner Companies in May, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, and regards the company's use of the EB-5 visa program to finance a development in Jersey City, N.J. called One Journal Square.

It isn't clear what potential violations the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office is looking into.

The EB-5 visa program offers green cards to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in U.S. businesses that would create at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs for American workers.

The company launched a marketing campaign in Beijing and Shanghai in May seeking Chinese investors. That campaign promised green cards for as many as 300 people who invested the requisite $500,000 in One Journal Square.

Kushner Companies came under fire in May after Kushner's sister Nicole Meyer, a principal at the company, mentioned her brother's service in the Trump administration during a pitch to investors in Beijing.

The company later apologized for the remarks and said that Meyer's statement was not intended to use Kushner's work in the Trump administration to attract investors.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

America and the Foxconn Dream


America and the Foxconn Dream


Tim Culpan

July 27, 2017, 12:35 AM CDT

This package could buy an iPhone for everybody in the state.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Wisconsin is about to shell out as much as $3 billion for the privilege of luring Foxconn Technology Group. At $519 per citizen, it would have been cheaper to buy an iPhone for every man, woman and child in the midwestern state. 1

Let's be clear: The big winner isn't the taxpayer. It's Foxconn and its billionaire chairman Terry Gou. As I predicted several times, Foxconn would only come to the U.S. if and when his demands were met.

Meet them is exactly what Wisconsin did, with an offering of tax credits, training grants and infrastructure improvements. In return, Foxconn said it will invest $10 billion and create 3,000 jobs.

Let's take a look at those figures: Wisconsin is paying as much as $1 million per job, which will carry an average salary of $54,000. The state's economic development corporation is selling the project to taxpayers with a claim that it will create 10,000 construction jobs for building the facility and another 6,000 indirect positions. It's expecting $3.3 million of investment per employee from the Taiwanese company.

Politicians, lobbyists and Foxconn can make the figures work by being generous with the facts. For example, if every one of those jobs came to fruition, they can claim 29,000 positions for $3 billion, or $103,000 per job. But that's not going to happen.

Foxconn has factories in China and another dozen countries globally, yet that stated $10 billion investment is more than the group's publicly traded flagship -- Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. -- has devoted to capital expenditure over the past five years combined.

There is potential for the payroll to climb to 13,000 in the future -- a figure crucial to Wisconsin justifying the expense -- but I wouldn't bet your 401(k) on it. That's because if Gou really does dish out $10 billion on this facility, the only way to make it viable is by keeping staffing low and leaning on automation to boost productivity. This LCD factory will be either labor intensive or highly automated. It can't be both.

Foxconn's plans for U.S. manufacturing take cues from Tesla Inc.'s Fremont, California facility, a highly automated factory that Gou has visited more than once. There, Elon Musk is reported to have more than 160 specialist robots to supplement the labor force. Expect Foxconn to be even more automated, because it will be making displays -- a standardized product -- whereas Tesla custom-builds its vehicles with a lot more human intervention.

It's important to keep in mind that investment pledges dished up in press releases don't always equate to the final reality.

Three years ago, Gou signed a deal with the government of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital and its biggest city, to invest $1 billion and employ local workers to make electronics. That never happened. Neither did a $30 million high-tech factory in Pennyslvania that was announced a year earlier.

Just this past year, Foxconn is reported to have pledged investments of $5 billion in India; $3.65 billion in Kunshan, China; and $8.8 billion in Guangzhou. It's too early to know if those sums will ever be spent, but including Wisconsin, the tally now stands at $27.5 billion of commitments. That's more than Hon Hai has spent in the last 23 years.

Terry Gou didn't get where he is today by blithely spending money on huge factories. Instead, he's learned to entice leaders into thinking big, and then letting them pay.

Wisconsin shows that Foxconn isn't building the American Dream -- America is building the Foxconn machine.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Boone County Food Pantry




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Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare


By Nathaniel Weixel - 07/23/17 08:16 PM EDT 217


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What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare

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If Congress isn’t able to repeal ObamaCare, it’s likely that the Trump administration will follow through on the president's vow to let the law fail.
President Trump regularly asserts that ObamaCare is dead or dying, and the administration has already taken steps to undermine the law while congressional Republicans struggle to enact healthcare legislation.

The administration has broad authority over the implementation of ObamaCare, giving officials the power to limit the law's effectiveness even without congressional involvement.
Here are four ways Trump could cripple the law.
Stop the cost-sharing subsidies.
The biggest thing the Trump administration can do to hurt ObamaCare would be to stop making key subsidy payments to insurers, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSR).
Should the subsidies stop, the insurance markets would likely be thrown into chaos, which could bolster claims from Senate Republicans and the White House that ObamaCare is failing.
Trump has publicly waffled on whether he will continue the payments. At times he’s threatened to withhold them, let the ObamaCare markets collapse and then blame Democrats. At other times, he’s acknowledged the political risks and said the payments would continue.
“We pay hundreds of millions of dollars a month in subsidy that the courts don't even want us to pay,” Trump said during a lunch with Republican senators Wednesday. “And when those payments stop, it stops immediately. It doesn't take two years, three years, one year — it stops immediately.”
The White House made the payments for July, but has not made a commitment beyond this month. Insurers have called the payments critical, saying that without them, they would have to massively increase premiums for 2018 or exit the individual market.
Many insurers blamed uncertainty surrounding the payments for proposed double-digit rate increases for 2018. 
Stop enforcing the individual mandate.
ObamaCare requires everyone in the country to have health insurance, or pay a penalty. Trump can’t unilaterally abolish the mandate, but he can instruct the IRS to stop enforcing it.
Trump hinted at such a move on the first day he took office, issuing a vaguely worded executive order instructing federal agencies to waive or defer any part of ObamaCare that imposed a “fiscal burden” on states.
But despite the threats, the mandate is still the law and people are still supposed to pay a penalty for lacking coverage.
Insurers are worried that if the Trump administration eases up on the mandate or creates more exemptions to it, it would create a “death spiral” in the ObamaCare markets.
The mandate helps bring in healthy enrollees to balance out the sick ones, with the goal of preventing premiums from spiking. If the healthy people don’t buy insurance, only the sickest will, and premiums will skyrocket.
The mixed signals from the administration about the mandate are spooking insurers. They don’t know what to plan for, and that’s showing in their filings.  

“With open enrollment for 2018 only three months away, our members and all Americans need the certainty and security of knowing coverage will be available and affordable for them," the BlueCross BlueShield Association said in a statement.

Pennsylvania’s five insurers, for example, filed premium increase requests averaging nearly 9 percent. But that increase could be hiked up to 36 percent without the individual mandate and the cost-sharing reduction payments.

Stop advertising and outreach.

The Obama administration used each open enrollment period to heavily promote exchange signups. Administration officials would appear in ads online and on TV.
The Trump administration has taken the opposite approach.
Shortly after Trump took office, the Department of Health and Human Services said it withdrew about $5 million of advertising that was intended to encourage people to sign up for insurance through ObamaCare.
HHS has also shortened the annual open enrollment period from three months to six weeks, and the agency churns out anti-ObamaCare charts, studies and graphics on a regular basis.
HHS Secretary Tom Price has also been producing swaths of ads showcasing “victims” of ObamaCare to promote the law’s repeal.
According to an AP report, the administration recently cancelled contracts with two companies that helped facilitate ObamaCare signups in 18 cities.
Advocates worry that without outreach from the government, Americans who need insurance won’t know they can sign up. Lower signups generally mean higher prices, which has been one of the most consistent Republican critiques of the law.
There’s also no indication that the administration is doing anything to convince insurers to stay in any of the “bare” counties across the country without an ObamaCare plan to buy.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama played an active role in enticing insurers back into the markets, but the Trump administration has taken a more hands-off approach.
Use administrative flexibility.
HHS Secretary Tom Price has enormous flexibility within the law to redefine some of its parameters. The powers given to the HHS secretary were meant to help implement ObamaCare, but Price has indicated he’ll use them to dismantle the law.

"Fourteen hundred and forty-two times the ACA said 'the secretary shall' or 'the secretary may,' " Price said during his confirmation hearing in March.
Congressional Republicans have urged Price to use every regulatory lever possible.
“There are a lot of things that can be done with regulations, that people don’t see happening on a daily basis,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told The Hill recently.

For example, Price could change the rules requiring how much insurers would have to cover under the category of essential benefits. While the administration can’t repeal the requirement completely, they can change the definition.
Many congressional Republicans would like to either eliminate the essential health benefit requirement, or at the very least, let states and insurers opt out, so long as they also offer plans that comply with the rules.

If ObamaCare repeal fails in Congress, Republicans will be looking for Price to do the next best thing.

Tags John Barrasso

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Belvidere leaders hope business registration will control crime


Posted: Thu 6:47 PM, Jul 20, 2017  |

Updated: Thu 6:49 PM, Jul 20, 2017

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) -- The city of Belvidere is keeping a closer eye on local businesses after four massage parlors are shut down for illegal activity.

So much so he opened Vintage 815 last year.

However, he feels some city ordinances are halting the freedom of businesses like his.

"I think it's important for the police and the fire department and the city to know who owns a particular business just for emergency reasons,” says William Hajdys.

After September’s shut down of four Belvidere massage parlors, including the Executive Relaxation Spa, the city is now cracking down on all businesses in the area.

Requiring them to register annually and consent to being shut down for 30 days during a hearing if the city suspects any illegal activity.
"I just have too many questions that aren't answered," says Belvidere Alderman Wendy Frank.

She says she supports punishing businesses for illegal activity, but she thinks requiring business to register with the city may be ineffective.

"On one hand I’m for that, but I don't think this is the right way. I don't think that we have a lot of power in that piece of paper," says Frank.

Hadjys and Frank both say they believe criminals should be stopped, but this is not the way to go.

"It’s almost like he's penalizing people to just take care of 1 or 2 small businesses, and everyone's paying for it," says Hajdys.

Those in support of the ordinance say it will give the city a chance to know what every business is doing and keep better tabs on activities. The ordinance passed City Council 5-4 and should go into affect in 9 days.

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

What, exactly, was the point of all this, Governor?



What, exactly, was the point of all this, Governor?

By Crain's Editorial Board

You want to breathe a sigh of relief, you know you do. Go ahead. After two years of pain, Illinois, you're entitled. Your elected leaders finally have done what responsible adults should have done all along—namely, negotiate a spending plan for the state and pass it into law. The $36 billion fiscal 2018 budget—passed with bipartisan support despite every effort by Gov. Bruce Rauner to kill it—reduces spending from the previous year, raises income taxes a lot and starts paying down $15 billion in overdue bills that piled up while the state spent years being a willful deadbeat.

What a shame legislators weren't willing to compromise until they had to stare down the business end of a junk rating from the nation's credit agencies. Still, the deal got done, though it won't pass any partisan's purity test. It doesn't relieve Illinois residents' property tax burdens. It cuts more deeply into higher education spending than many would like. And on and on.

But the upside is that the budget contains the new revenue that all sides—including Rauner, despite his campaign rhetoric—eventually acknowledged was needed. The individual income tax rate will climb from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, the same level it was under Gov. Pat Quinn, and the corporate rate from 5.25 percent to 7 percent. The hikes combined are expected to raise about $5 billion a year. In the end, even business groups like the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago advocated for plans much like the one that finally passed, reasoning that stability was preferable to mutually assured destruction.

So Illinois spent two years setting itself on fire in order to do . . . what, exactly? Income tax rates now stand at 2014 levels. Pensions are still underfunded. The major "Turnaround Agenda" ideas the governor ran on—"right to work," workers' comp reform and term limits—were kicked to the curb over time like so much roadkill. The state, meanwhile, has been the customer from hell to social service agencies and small businesses alike, demanding services and refusing to pay for them, racking up millions in unnecessary interest charges and forcing private-sector layoffs along the way.

Rauner presided over all of this—and, at key moments in the spectacle, could have prevented it. Not a good look for a man who ran as a business-minded pragmatist, a dealmaker who would put the needs of regular Illinoisans first and reject petty partisan politics.

In the end, Rauner's stance on the budget compromise revealed how political this supposed "non-politician" has actually become. Despite knowing the damage that further ratings downgrades would do to the state, despite understanding the real damage being done to universities, businesses and municipalities by the ongoing standoff, despite recognizing that there is no way cuts and reforms alone will dig Illinois out of its financial hole without new revenue, the governor vetoed the budget legislation when it came to his desk. He did this knowing the chances were very, very good that his veto would be overridden.

There were plenty of political benefits for the governor in this irresponsible move: The guy who said he wasn't a career politician gets to appease his base, which is howling to the point of threatening violence against lawmakers who voted yes on the budget. He also gets a workable budget that will hold the wolves of Wall Street at bay at least for a time. And as an added sweetener, he also gets plenty of partisan fuel for a re-election campaign he once told us he'd be happy to skip if it meant he could get the job done in Springfield for the people of Illinois.

What a waste.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hope for an Illinois Budget?

Governor Finally Supports a Budget Plan, but Democrats Remain Spooked

By Rich Miller

One of the hottest rumors making the rounds among Statehouse types last week was that the governor and/or the Illinois Republican Party will be sending “trackers” to Springfield for the upcoming special legislative session.

The rumor, which was everywhere, was that the trackers would follow Democrats around to try to get them to say silly things or record them doing stuff that might not look good to the folks back home.

House staff was even telling Democratic members to watch out for the trackers. And some Democrats were privately demanding that their party respond in kind.

So I went to the upper echelons of Team Rauner and asked whether the rumors were true. I was told in no uncertain terms that they were not.

Nasty rumors thrive in the pea-soup fog of fear and loathing that pervades the Statehouse these days. At one time or another, it seems like everybody has fought everybody and now nobody trusts anybody.

Heck, the far-right Illinois Policy Institute is even running Facebook ads whacking Governor Bruce Rauner and legislative Republicans for their “$5-billion tax hike.” Rauner used to be a large contributor and often sought advice from and palled around with the group’s leader.

The governor’s party last week proposed what appears on the surface to be a fairly reasonable budget plan (pending further review) with some much-needed tax increases. But they couched the unveiling in such overtly partisan and demanding terms that it looks like a trap to many eyes on both sides of the aisle.

“We’re calling a special session so lawmakers can pass the Republicans’ compromise balanced budget plan with reforms,” Rauner tweeted just before he officially called the special session. The governor has obvious comprehension problems with the concept of “compromise.” A plan drafted by one party and then presented as an all-or-nothing demand doesn’t quite fit the traditional definition of the word. Then again, the Democratic majority has also done this on countless occasions.

At least Rauner is finally starting to own something, but if he had just laid his tax-hike cards on the table two-and-a-half years ago, we might not be in this mess today. Senate President John Cullerton has said almost from the beginning that the only way a tax increase will pass is if the governor asks for it and sets the rates.

There’s so little trust right now that some Democrats (and some Republicans, who’ve also been burned by Rauner) still want the governor to specifically say aloud that he will sign a personal-income-tax rate of 4.95 percent and new service taxes on things such as landscaping, which are included in his proposal.

But it’s not just the rumors or the proposals or the press conferences. Other recent events have thoroughly rattled many Democrats. For instance, on June 9 Rauner contributed $1.5 million to the Illinois Republican Party, and the following day the state party passed through $850,000 to the House Republicans’ campaign committee.

To some Democratic eyes, Rauner gave his Republicans big bucks to either vote for tax hikes or stay mum.

It’s also pretty much impossible to pass a tax hike without votes from Chicago Democratic legislators, who don’t have to worry about general-election challenges. Yet the Republican proposal included what seemed to Chicago Democrats to be an obvious poison pill: Vote to raise taxes while simultaneously shortchanging funding for Chicago’s public schools.

And then Illinois Republican Party negative mailers started hitting various House Democratic incumbents.

“Fred Crespo and Mike Madigan may let Illinois collapse,” blared a mailer that landed last week in Representative Crespo’s suburban turf. “Fred Crespo teamed with Mike Madigan to: Block a balanced budget; Bail out Chicago Public Schools; Prevent a property-tax increase; Reject job-creating reforms.”

Rauner recently began airing TV ads attacking Speaker Madigan and his “puppets” for letting the state “crumble” and for wanting to raise taxes “by billions.”

It’s true that the House Democrats do stand alone as the only caucus without a budget plan. It’s not at all inaccurate to warn Illinoisans that the House Dems may “let Illinois collapse,” because they haven’t yet done anything concrete to keep the government from collapsing.

But Democrats are left wondering if Rauner is trying to intimidate them into voting with him or setting them up to take the blame for a plan that wasn’t ever going anywhere. We’ll find out soon.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Senate Health Care Bill

Fellow Illinoisan,                                                                                                                                

Yesterday, I asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price—the person responsible for implementing any changes to our nation’s health care system—if he or anyone at his agency has seen the Senate Republicans’ secret health care repeal bill, which they intend to bring to a vote before the Fourth of July. He admitted that he had not.

That’s because only thirteen male Republican senators know the contents of that bill. It is being crafted behind closed doors and closely guarded by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The American public has not seen this repeal bill, and there hasn’t been a single hearing on the legislation or any opportunity to offer an amendment. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet published an analysis of the bill, so we don’t know how many people would lose insurance under the Republican plan, how out-of-pocket costs would increase, or how people with preexisting conditions would fare. 

Remember that, in 2009, when we were working on the Affordable Care Act, the Senate held more than 50 bipartisan public hearings, meetings, and roundtables on the legislation. We debated the bill on the Senate Floor for twenty-five consecutive days, considered hundreds of Republican and Democratic amendments, and accepted more than 170 Republican amendments.

Why are Republicans hiding the details of legislation that will affect every American and one-sixth of the U.S. economy? Why are they moving at a break-neck pace to have us vote on it before the Fourth of July? 

If the Senate Republican repeal bill looks anything like the version passed in the House of Representatives—which throws 23 million people off health care, including one million Illinoisans; once again allows insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions; increases out-of-pocket costs for Americans aged 55 to 64 and those in rural communities; and jeopardizes 60,000 Illinois jobs— I understand why they want to do it in secret.

The American people deserve better. They deserve quality health care for themselves and their loved ones. And they deserve for their elected representatives to be honest with them.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Belvidere Animal Shelter Shuts Down


Belvidere Animal Shelter Shuts Down

The new caretakers of the Belvidere shelter said it was in bad condition.

By: Karina Parada

Posted: Jun 16, 2017 06:32 PM CDT

BELVIDERE - A longtime animal shelter in the Stateline area shuts down.
The new caretakers of the Fresh Start Animal Rescue in Belvidere said they had little choice after seeing conditions there. Angels 4 Animals held an open house to show people the poor conditions in which dogs and cats were being kept. The mold in the rooms, ripped walls, and dirty floors were all on display as visitors toured the shelter for the first time. Many of them were left speechless. Cages that were once filled with dogs and cats now sit empty. Fresh Start board members brought on Angels 4 Animals, an animal advocacy group, two months ago to turn around the shelter.
"When I walked in and I saw the animals and the way they were, it's heartbreaking," said Angels 4 Animals Vice President Amy Mehalko. "It was absolutely heartbreaking to come in and see the animals crying and barking."
Mehalko says the deplorable conditions were never known because the previous managers wouldn't allow anyone to see where the animals were kept, not even Fresh Start's own board members. Mehalko says her group tried to save Fresh Start, but couldn't.
"This building was not meant at any time to house animals,"  said Angels4Animals President Kathy Mehalko. "This building was not safe for the animals."
"We're very sorry for having to shut the doors but it was truly a last decision for all of us," said Amy Mehalko. "We tried every avenue that we could."
Many puppies at the shelter became sick due to the conditions. A total of 85 animals lives were lost at Fresh Start last year alone. Mehalko created a binder made up of people who adopted pets at the shelter. Every one of them had a pet with a major health issue. One of those owners was Carrie McCallum. She adopted a puppy named Carl. He died shortly after taking him home.
"After I found out what was going on here, I just had to come back here for Carl," said McCallum.
The animals that lived at Fresh Start have been placed at foster homes or other rescues. Everything inside the building is for sale.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Who is involved in Great Lakes Basis RR?


Here's who owns that $2.8 billion rail-untangling venture

By Claire Bushey

Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

A retired businessman pushing a plan to lay rail track that circumvents Chicago owns almost 90 percent of the venture, according to records.

Frank Patton, 74, owns 87.2 percent of Great Lakes Basin Transportation, the company seeking to build a $2.8 billion, 261-mile alternative for rail traffic to skirt the city's infamous congestion. Patton is the company's founder and chairman.

Great Lakes Basin had sought to keep its list of investors outside the public record, but the Surface Transportation Board, the U.S. regulator for railroads, required the company to disclose it. The company would profit from charging railroads to use the company's track.

Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railroad have both said they would be unlikely to use it. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said their opposition brings "into question the demand and need for an additional rail line." The Catholic Diocese of Rockford also is opposing the project, saying it will cut across land near Winnebago needed to expand a local cemetery.

Shipping giant UPS, which wrote to regulators, supports the project.

Only two people besides Patton own more than 1 percent of Great Lakes Basin: Jim Wilson, the company's vice chairman and president, owns 5 percent, and Greg Frazados, Patton's lawyer, owns 1.01 percent.

Another seven investors each hold stakes of 1 percent or less. Four of them are officers or consultants at Great Lakes Basin.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Legislators join fight against Great Lakes Basin Railroad

Legislators join fight against Great Lakes Basin Railroad

GLBR given June 22 deadline to supply information


11:56 pm

The current proposed route of the Great Lakes Basin Railroad and Daniel Burnham Expressway.

Image provided


MORRIS – Legislators are stepping up their fight against the proposed Great Lakes Basin Railroad, which would go through Grundy and LaSalle counties, as well as many others.

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, co-sponsored a resolution filed May 26 in the Illinois House of Representatives that opposes the proposed railroad and a highway that would run along it. It has been forwarded to the House Rules Committee.

Welter said that in his days as chairman of the Grundy County Board, he was against the proposal and still is. That board formally opposed it in May 2016.

“We were one of the first counties to pass a resolution opposing it,” Welter said.

Since then, counties and residents throughout the 275-mile route from southern Wisconsin to northeastern Indiana have spoken out against a proposal that Great Lakes Basin Railroad leadership says will alleviate a notorious railway bottleneck through the Chicago area.

The resolution was entered by state Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee.

“The main thing is that it would cut through farm land,” Welter said of his opposition to the proposed project. “Farming is a large economic driver for the area.”

GLBR co-founder Frank Patton and consultants came to Morris Community High School in May 2016 to discuss the proposal. Hundreds of residents showed up, and most were not happy with Patton’s responses to their questions.

“We hoped to get a lot of answers and I think we left with even more questions,” Welter said.

Farmers are concerned that the railroad would go through their property without regard for their rights as landowners, Welter said.

“The idea of using quick-take or grabbing up land for a private project without negotiating with landowners is an issue for me,” Welter said. “I’m a huge proponent of landowner rights.”

On May 1, GLBR filed an application to build the rail with the Surface Transportation Board. The latest plan includes the proposed Daniel Burnham Expressway, which would run from Interstate 80 west of Morris to Indiana, where it would again meet with the Interstate 80/94 expressway. It is meant to serve as a replacement for the long-discussed Illiana Expressway.

Along with that application, GLBR filed a motion for a protective order in an effort to keep information about its top 10 shareholders private.

On June 2, the STB requested financial information from GLBR, denied the request to keep shareholders confidential, and asked for a list of cities and counties it would serve because GLBR only supplied county information. The board gave GLBR until June 22 to submit the information.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, sent a letter in May to the STB opposing the project, citing constituent opposition to it.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Attorney General to Investigate IL Fire Chief's Termination

Attorney General to Investigate IL Fire Chief's Termination

Susan Vela On Jun 10, 2017
Source: McClatchy

chief brad bartell termination 593bfdea51e7e

The public attended the Boone County District 2 Fire Department board meeting where the chief was terminated.

Photo credit: Courtesy of WIFR

June 09--BELVIDERE -- The Illinois Attorney General is investigating whether the Boone County Fire Protection District 2 board violated the Open Meetings Act when it terminated Brad Bartell as chief.

The district's firefighters association requested the investigation.

"Trustees willingly and deliberately violated the OMA," the association's letter to the Illinois Attorney General's Office reads. "The emails we received via FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) were first sent to the fire district's attorney for screening prior to being sent to us.

"This filtered out many critical documents that are pertinent to your investigation. The documents we did receive however show a pattern of discussion and decisions being made behind the scenes."

Annie Thompson, the Attorney General's press secretary, said the state will take up an open meetings and FOIA investigation as it does with all requests.

The fire district's firefighters association requested the state's review because members say trustees should not have fired Bartell and haven't been transparent about why they let him go. When the association asked for a rationale, the trustees provided a list of concerns about Bartell that included allegations of mismanagement, missing equipment and failure to follow proper protocols.

Association members have been appearing at trustees' meetings to protest Bartell's firing and to express solidarity with their former chief.

Bartell, who serves as the Boone County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator, has said the trustees began asking him to leave closed sessions he normally would sit in on.

"With Brad, it was a family around here," volunteer firefighter Josh Dummer said Monday as the trustees discussed personnel matters in closed session. "If they're not going to respect him, why are they going to care about us?"

They've also let trustees Jack Ryan, Kevin Stark and Jim Marrs know they are circulating petitions aimed at putting a referendum question before voters asking whether trustees should be elected. Right now, the Boone County Board chairman appoints them.

The trustees and Bartell's replacement, Chief Bob Koehn, have declined to comment about Bartell's termination.

The fire district covers about 150 square miles, including the unincorporated communities of Irene, Herbert and Garden Prairie.

Bartell also declined to comment about the attorney general's review. He was with the fire district for 26 years -- five of them as chief -- when he was let go after an April 3 meeting.

Illinois' Open Meetings Act requires that public bodies cite why they're going behind closed doors. They're allowed to discuss personnel matters during these closed sessions. Fire district trustees didn't give a reason until the April 3 session.

Marrs then said the closed session was for "the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee."

Springfield attorney Donald Craven, who specializes in First Amendment issues, noted that Bartell was not a member of the board, and that the trustees had every right to talk about his leadership without him being there.

"To properly go into closed session, there has to be a motion to go into closed session," he said. "That motion has to recite what exemption under the act they're relying on and there has to be a roll call vote on that motion.

"Then when all of that happens, they can go into closed session ...there has to be a verbatim recording of that closed session, which is usually just an audiotape."

The Illinois Attorney General public access counselor may review the audiotape, he said.

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

___ (c)2017 Rockford Register Star, Ill. Visit Rockford Register Star, Ill. at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rail regulators ask Great Lakes Basin for more info before acting on rail line bid


Transportation June 5, 2017

Rail regulators ask Great Lakes Basin for more info before acting on rail line bid

New rail line to bypass Chicago; UPS supports proposal.

By DC Velocity Staff

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Federal rail regulators have asked Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc. (GLBT), which plans to build a 261-mile rail line connecting with six of North America's seven largest railroads to bypass Chicago, for more information before they can evaluate its bid to resolve the bottlenecks that plague the nation's busiest and most congested rail hub.

In a decision issued Friday, the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which oversees what remains of rail regulation, asked GLBT to provide a list of cities and counties to be served; GLBT only submitted a list of the counties, the agency said. The Board also directed GLBT to file a copy of its latest balance sheet and income statement documents. The Board also rejected GLBT's designation that its list of its 10 principal stockholders and their respective holdings be classified as 'highly confidential."

The agency set a June 22 deadline for filing the additional information.

The privately funded line would skirt Chicago to the south, passing through counties in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. According to GLBT, the line would permit a train to travel between any two of 26 proposed interchange points in eight hours or less. Currently, it can take as long as 30 hours for trains to navigate Chicago's existing rail network to deliver goods not destined for the city or its environs. GLBT said the line would allow up to 110 trains per day to avoid the Chicago terminal.

In response to concerns that the line would encroach on residential neighborhoods, GLBT said it would build a one- to two-mile buffer zone separating it from towns along the proposed route.

GLBT founder Frank Patton has called the line the largest freight rail project in the Chicagoland region in more than a century.

The proposed railroad is part of an ambitious multi-modal scheme that includes the construction of the "Burnham Expressway," a privately funded toll road designed to route traffic around Chicago by connecting the Indiana Toll Road with five interstate highways, and an airport in Chicago's southern suburbs that would relieve traffic congestion at O'Hare International Airport northwest of the city and at Midway International Airport on Chicago's south side.

Three of the top five executives, Jim Wilson, vice chairman and president of Great Lakes Basin Transportation; Mike Vlaszak, chief legal and administrative officer of the parent; and William Miller, chief commercial officer, spent time at the old Santa Fe Railway, which was acquired by the former Burlington Northern Railroad Co. in 1995 to become what would eventually be known as BNSF Railway.

Two of the six "Class I" railroads, Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Corp. and Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern Corp., have said they would not participate in the project. Other railroads would have to pay to gain access to the line, and those that aren't interested may believe that the cost would be too dear or that a new line would threaten their own market shares.

However, Atlanta-based UPS Inc., the nation's largest transportation company and a huge user of the rails to move intermodal traffic, supports the proposal.

In an April 28 letter to the STB, UPS said that "any effort to build new rail capacity and bypass the notorious Chicago rail bottleneck would have a material positive impact on the fluidity and velocity of the freight rail network, and a direct benefit to UPS and our customers."

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

GLBR must release largest shareholders June 10


Federal board: Transportation company must reveal shareholders for new railroad through Rock County

Jim Dayton

A proposed 261-mile rail line through Rock County hit a temporary snag Friday after a decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The board directed Great Lakes Basin Transportation to share more details in its application to build a new railroad. The company also must reveal its 10 principal shareholders after the board denied a request for confidentiality.

The board disagreed with Great Lakes Basin's position that a list of stakeholders was “highly confidential” and contained “proprietary and commercially sensitive information.” Great Lakes Basin had said revealing its shareholders could damage the company, but it did not justify why, the board wrote in its decision.

The rail company must file a public list of stakeholders by Friday, June 9, according to the document.

Great Lakes Basin President Frank Patton said Friday he had received the Surface Transportation Board's decision and was studying the document. The company will respond soon, he said.

Mirjam Melin, co-founder of local opposition group Rock Against the Rail, said if the railroad line is eventually approved, landowners along the route have a right to know who is taking over their property.

She applauded the board's decision to reveal shareholders because it showed opposition groups were being heard, she said.

Great Lakes Basin's current proposed route begins in Milton and cuts between Janesville and Beloit. It then turns south into Illinois, loops around Chicago and ends in Indiana.

The company submitted its application to build the rail line May 1. Patton has told The Gazette the rail line will allow trains to avoid congestion in Chicago.

But the Surface Transportation Board believes the application still lacks details.

Great Lakes Basin did not give the board a full list of cities and counties that would be served by the rail line. It also must file a balance sheet and income statement along with other paperwork, according to the document.

The rail company had not provided any financial information because it has not yet conducted business operations. But Great Lakes Basin has retained a contractor for an environmental study, who should appear on a balance sheet as a liability, the board wrote.

Great Lakes Basin must finalize its application by June 22.

Melin believes the application's missing details show the company is "not ready for prime time.”

The board also simplified how opposition groups such as Rock Against the Rail can file legal responses. The groups must give copies of their responses to the board and Great Lakes Basin but not all parties of record, which would have included all citizens who have submitted public comments.

Once Great Lakes Basin submits the missing information, opposition groups will have an undetermined amount of time to file new responses.

Rock Against the Rail does not want the railroad, Melin said.

“By no means is the fight over. This is not the end of it,” she said. “These are just little things along the way that tell us we are being heard and what we asked for is being considered.”

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rock Valley College: A lesson in gov’t bureaucracy


Guest Column: A lesson in gov’t bureaucracy

May 24, 2017May 24, 2017 Editorial Staff 0 Comment

By Paul Gorski

I am a new board trustee at Rock Valley College and, as I usually do in any of my jobs, I ask many questions. Unfortunately, despite being a board member, I might have to request answers to my questions through formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests rather than a simple “May I see a copy of that contract?” More on that in a bit.

First, I want to thank local voters for electing me as a Rock Valley College Board Trustee. I received nearly 25,000 votes, which is quite a feat in an off-year election for a community college board position. People who know elections tell me those were phenomenal results. Thank you. I am humbled by the support.

Second, I am not now nor do I expect to be in a position of speaking officially for the Rock Valley College Board. The opinions I express here are my own. My opinions will not likely reflect the official position of the board or other board members. I wanted to make that clear because board “policy” states only the board chairman may speak on behalf of the board.

It is also a board policy that only the chairman and committee chairpersons ask the president of the college for certain information. There are seven trustees. One trustee is the chair and three other trustees are committee chairpersons. The three remaining trustees need to direct their questions for the president and staff to one of four other trustees. Sounds like an unnecessary communications hierarchy for a small seven-person board. Talk about red tape.

By the way, according to “red tape” refers to: “official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction.” Yep.

When I served on the county board, the twenty-eight board members could ask any staff member a question. The County Board Chairman at the time, Scott Christiansen, encouraged board members to go directly to staff. County staff answered our questions promptly and politely.

Back to the RVC present: the information in question now concerns certain contracts already made and signed part of the public record; and surveys or questionnaires used to determine the need for a new service on campus, also a public record. My initial request for this information was rebuffed, directing me to the board chair and or committee chair to obtain and discuss the issues.

Local residents may request the very same information simply by asking for it, and by mentioning FOIA the college would have to reply in a matter of days. I, on the other hand, a board trustee, have to go through channels, a process where I could be denied, and then discuss it in committee, which would not happen until next month at the earliest. As I mentioned to RVC officials, that workflow does not work for me.

I would like to review these documents, do some research, list my questions, and then discuss these matters with fellow trustees at an open meeting. I think that is a very reasonable request from an elected official.

I am not blaming RVC staff; these policies are board-driven. I am not sure if someone does not want me digging into these issues or maybe we just need some management training for the 21st century: agile, open and transparent leadership training. That said, I repeated my request to the board chair. As I write this article, I have not received a response.

My political friends and foes know that I ask questions. Lots of questions. I ask your questions, my questions and questions to increase the level of discussion on government financing. I have served on the Winnebago County Board, Cherry Valley Township Board, and Cherry Valley Library District Board (very briefly), and I never had to file a FOIA request to obtain documents like this before.

I hope I do not have to file one now. I will keep you posted.

Paul Gorski is a newly elected Rock Valley College Board Trustee who supports open meetings, open government, and equal ballot access to encourage public participation in local government.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Belvidere mayor forms ‘Bridge’ to strengthen ties with Latino community


Belvidere mayor forms ‘Bridge’ to strengthen ties with Latino community

Posted May 22, 2017 at 12:01 AM Updated May 22, 2017 at 2:44 PM
By Susan Vela
Staff writer

BELVIDERE — Mayor Mike Chamberlain was stunned a few years ago to discover that the city’s Latino community accounted for approximately 35 percent of the city’s population.

The nearly 5 percentage point increase in Latino residents since 2010′s U.S. Census Bureau count prompted him to approach local Latino leaders about an initiative that would make both longtime residents and newcomers feel more welcome.

Chamberlain has established a group called Bridge that brings together community leaders of all backgrounds for monthly meetings to share ideas for civic improvement.

“It’s not a political committee. It’s not a committee that has one specific function,” Chamberlain said. “We’re still kind of feeling our way along. I’m just trying to make the opportunity available to see whether we can build something.”

Too often, he said, members of minority groups don’t feel comfortable in their hometowns. Chamberlain wants to vanquish any anxieties through discussion and action. He said Bridge volunteer work is a possibility.

But it’ll be up to community leaders to make Bridge work. Chamberlain said he doesn’t “even like the word ‘minority’ or ‘diversity’ ” and wants Bridge to be about the community coming together to coexist to the most comfortable degree.

Some Bridge members say they would like to see more Latinos frequent the downtown business district. Belvidere’s changing community means a large number of State Street businesses are owned by Latinos, such as Taqueria El Molcajete and Los Girasoles Hair Salon.

“I feel comfortable,” said Los Girasoles stylist Lourdes Medina, who still likes Chamberlain’s Bridge.

Lori Mason recently became owner of Sweets & Sundries, an ice cream and candy shop off State Street.

“Anything that promotes business owners is a smart move,” she said. “I do think the downtown area needs help.”

Chamberlain approached Nancy Razon, the Belvidere School District’s bilingual liaison, when he began considering his new committee. She hopes Bridge participants can boost the number of Latino consumers who shop downtown.

Razon said language barriers had been a problem in the past. Some Latino business owners, she said, don’t feel there’s a strong citywide support network committed to helping them adapt to Belvidere.

“If we want to make it a better town, we need to work with the community,” she said.

Bridge has met twice since February. Chamberlain and Razon said about 15 people, mainly representatives from the Latino community, have attended both sessions. The next meeting is set for 8 a.m. Friday in the City Council Chambers, 401 Whitney Blvd.

Jessica Muellner, who represents District 3 on the Boone County Board, has been attending regularly.

“It’s a worthwhile thing,” she said. “I wanted to see the direction that the mayor was going. A lot of people pay a lot of lip service but this is a way to help things. We all get to know each other.”

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

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Monica’s View of Roger Ailes

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor


Monica Lewinsky: Roger Ailes’s Dream Was My Nightmare



Credit Laura Breiling

This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week 10 months after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed — a culture that affected me profoundly and personally.

Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.

It worked like magic: The story hooked viewers and made them Fox loyalists. For the past 15 years, Fox News has been the No. 1 news station; last year the network made about $2.3 billion.

Some experts have noted that viewers found Fox for the first time because of the crisis. John Moody, a Fox executive editor, reflected on that period: “The Lewinsky saga put us on the news map.” As he put it in another interview: “Monica was a news channel’s dream come true.”

Their dream was my nightmare. My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. My family and I huddled at home, worried about my going to jail — I was the original target of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, threatened with 27 years for having been accused of signing a false affidavit and other alleged crimes — or worse, me taking my own life. Meantime, Mr. Ailes huddled with his employees at Fox News, dictating a lineup of talking heads to best exploit this personal and national tragedy.

For myriad reasons — information gathering, boredom (I couldn’t leave my home without being trailed by paparazzi) and a touch of masochism — I watched the news around the clock. On Fox, it seemed, no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent.

Let’s not pretend that Fox News was the only network to cover this story in the gutter. Mr. Ailes’s station may have pioneered this new style of television reportage, but the other cable news channels didn’t hesitate to join the race to the bottom. In fact, in late 1998, when Keith Olbermann briefly left MSNBC, he expressed disgust with the frequent Lewinsky coverage.

Just as television news was devolving into a modern coliseum, the internet came along and compounded this culture of shame and vitriol. Remember: The story of my affair was not broken by The Washington Post, The New York Times or the networks, but online by the Drudge Report. The comments on television and online were excruciating. I ceased being a three-dimensional person. Instead I became a whore, a bimbo, a slut and worse. Just days after the story broke, Fox asked its viewers to vote on this pressing question: Is Monica Lewinsky an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills”?

Our world — of cyberbullying and chyrons, trolls and tweets — was forged in 1998. It is, as the historian Nicolaus Mills has put it, a “culture of humiliation,” in which those who prey on the vulnerable in the service of clicks and ratings are handsomely rewarded.


Monica Lewinsky in Washington in 1999. Credit Greg Gibson/Associated Press

As the past year has revealed, thanks to brave women like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, it is clear that at Fox, this culture of exploitation wasn’t limited to the screen. The irony of Mr. Ailes’s career at Fox — that he harnessed a sex scandal to build a cable juggernaut and then was brought down by his own — was not lost on anyone who has been paying attention.

There are some positive signs that the younger generation at Fox — James and Lachlan Murdoch — seem to want to change the culture Mr. Ailes created. Last week Bob Beckel, a Fox pundit who made a racist remark to an African-American Fox employee, was dismissed. Would this have happened in the Ailes era?

Although I imagine the desire by the Murdoch brothers to present a clean record to the European Commission reviewing their proposed takeover of Sky News played a role in their thinking, the Murdochs deserve praise for their part in the decision to fire Bill O’Reilly, whose show brought in $100 million a year in ad revenue but who harassed and bullied women he worked with. I hope the Murdochs understand that Americans will no longer tolerate a corporate culture that views hate and harassment as part of running a successful news business.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have a credible conservative point of view in our media — quite the opposite. If we’ve learned nothing else from the 2016 presidential election, it’s that we must find a way to foster robust and healthy discussion and debate. Our news channels should be just such places.

So, farewell to the age of Ailes. The late Fox chief pledged Americans fair and balanced news. Maybe now we’ll get it.

Monica Lewinsky is an anti-cyberbullying advocate and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

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