Mark Brown weighs in on James Laski's new book finally

mark_brown.jpg Mark Brown is a famous columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Mark Brown on several occasions. I thank God for Mark Brown because the famous “Hired Truck Scandal” would have sat on the backburner of someone’s desk. I cannot go in depth about this story due to a pending lawsuit, but it made two Chicago investigative reporters very famous. The work by the Sun-Times is historically significant. I still think it led to every major scandal you read about in the newspapers now. Corruption will sooner or later lead to Mayor Daley’s demise. Mayor Daley will always have an asterisk next to his name for corruption thanks to Mark Brown. (Please do not think I forgot about Meigs Field but the owners of the planes never did enough and they were too arrogant to fight back) Fighting Mayor Daley and his band of 11th Ward goons is full time work. I am glad Mark Brown put the guns back in the holster, when he gets in the saddle he is better than John Kass. Mark Brown writing about the Hired Truck Scandal proved he is at the top of his game when he wants. I am biased because I love corruption busting. I also think the Sun-Times moving a gem like Mark Brown back a few pages was a mistake. I respect Mark Brown as he knows how to keep his distance and write the truth. Maybe he will have a world famous website like me someday. Mark Brown’s spin on James Laski is great and it is irony. Mark Brown was my first post on Chicago Clout but some posts got twisted a while ago. Please read more about James Laski as he prepares for his second book. Chicago Clout did a video on Mr. Laski and we hope to have another when his second book is ready. See the video here again enjoy Mark Brown on James Laski below. Patrick McDonough]]>Laski's advice to Blagojevich: Look in the mirror
At least former city clerk took some of the blame in his book
March 3, 2009
BY MARK BROWN Sun-Times Columnist
Former City Clerk Jim Laski beat Rod Blagojevich to the punch last year with his own convicted-Chicago-politician-tells-all book, and even with a second one in the works, he wishes the former governor the best of luck, sort of.
"Good for him. He'll need it," said Laski, adding that "it's not a matter of if" Blagojevich is going to prison but "whether he'll get out in time" to attend his young daughters' college graduation.
If you sense some resentment from Laski in that remark, it has surprisingly less to do with the former governor's purported six-figure book deal than with the same irritation many in Illinois have these days with the limelight-craving Blagojevich.
Like a lot of us, Laski is tired of listening to the impeached governor's self-serving denials.
"The bottom line is: Don't keep blaming people," Laski said.
Obviously, there's a much bigger market for a Blagojevich book than there was for Laski's self-published My Fall from Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls, but I doubt that the greater demand will result in any greater proportion of truths being told.
When I spoke to him by phone Monday, Laski put his finger directly on the biggest problem with a Blagojevich book promising to tell us about the "dark side of politics."
"He is a major part of the dark side," said Laski, who adds that until Blagojevich is ready to "look in the mirror," he won't have much worthwhile to say.
Blago baloney: Truths vs. untruths
Say what you will about Laski, he has come farther than most convicted politicians around here in admitting his own failures — failures that led to a 21-month prison sentence for taking bribes in the Hired Truck scandal.
"I'm the one who had to make decisions. I'm the one who decided to take the money," says Laski, showing a self-awareness Blagojevich may never reach. "I wasn't saying I'm the poor persecuted one."
Rather than expose the drinking problems and infidelities of state legislators, as Blagojevich has threatened, Laski notes that he used his book to explore his own substance abuse.
Laski's book was illuminating mainly from the standpoint of showing a federal investigation from the viewpoint of the target — what was going through his mind as the walls closed in around him.
While Laski tells some stories out of school, though, the book isn't really a tell-all. I keep hoping we can coax more stories out of him as he goes, which is one reason I called him Monday, initially looking for his thoughts on Eddie Vrdolyak walking out of federal court with a sentence of probation.
The good thing about a Rod Blagojevich book will be that there's usually a grain of truth in what the governor has to say. The bad thing about a Blagojevich book is how difficult it will be to find that grain amid the self-aggrandizing untruths.
There's apparently some rumbling in the state Legislature to pass a law that would try to prevent the governor or other public officials from capitalizing on their crimes by writing about them. But I'm not sure we should discourage them.
Feds welcome tell-all
If it were up to me, every convicted politician in Illinois would be required to write a tell-all book as a condition of sentencing. After it was finished, a federal judge could reopen their sentence and adjust it accordingly, depending on how truthful they had been.
Federal prosecutors no doubt welcome the prospect of Blagojevich's promise to write in detail about the circumstances surrounding his efforts to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat.
From their standpoint, the more he does to lock himself into a story the better. That's one reason defense lawyers usually prefer their clients keep their mouths shut before trial — and another reason not to discourage Blagojevich.
Laski said his own book was pretty much a break-even proposition money-wise.
"It was therapeutic for me," said Laski, who is paying himself a small salary from what remains of his political campaign fund (a practice I do not endorse) while looking for opportunities in radio or teaching.
He says his next book will try to answer the question of "what's in the water here" that results in systemic political corruption. He hopes to include the thoughts of other elected officials who've been to prison — and of the prosecutors who sent them there.
"I'm really interested in how everybody gets down that road," he said.
When Blagojevich is ready to explain how he got down that road, I hope he finds a good ghost writer. Until then, he should concentrate on getting a good lawyer.

16 Replies to “Mark Brown weighs in on James Laski's new book finally”

  1. “(Please do not think I forgot about Meigs Field but the owners of the planes never did enough and they were too arrogant to fight back)”

    The Meigs folks beat Daley two and one-half times on the Meigs issue.

    They got the airport reopened in 1997 when it was supposed to close.

    They got it “saved” in 2001 and the airport supposed to be open until 2026.

    And then they fought Daley in the local court, the federal courts, kept the heat on the FAA to continue their investigation (remember the city paid more than a million bucks in fines) etc.

    If we had not saved Meigs Field in 2001, maybe Daley would have melted down in some other situation and shown his true colors to the city (that he is a deranged meglomaniac corrupt despot) but I’m not sure if it would have been as spectacular.

    And his actions at Meigs would be the easiest crimes to nail him with.

  2. Daley’s office casts doubt on travel report
    Recommend (6) Comments

    March 4, 2009

    BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
    Mayor Daley and his wife, Maggie, traveled to Singapore in September 2006, aboard a $31 million jet owned by a non-profit company under investigation by the IRS and Congress, City Hall acknowledged Wednesday.

    But the mayor’s office denied a CBS News report that the Daleys took 58 flights over a five-year period ending in 2007 courtesy of Educap, a multibillion dollar student loan charity under the microscope for allegedly abusing its tax-exempt status because of the high interest it charges on charitable student loans and the perks it provides to its CEO.

    The Educap jet, reportedly sold after the IRS launched its investigation, was also used to transport CIA Director Leon Panetta, former FBI Director William Sessions, former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and convicted former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the network said.

    On Wednesday, mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard pored over travel records and found that Daley had flown commercial on numerous dates when CBS had him flying on the Educap jet. She found only one trip where the Daleys actually flew on the non-profit’s dime.

    It happened Sept. 15 through Sept. 19 in 2006, when Daley, accompanied by his wife, flew to Singapore to attend a World Bank conference.

    “They’re claiming it was 10 trips with different legs. We’ve gone through the mayor’s official schedules and compared it to the list of trips laid out in the news report. Out of all these trips, this was the only one we were able to find when he was on their plane,” Heard said.

    Daley has piled up frequent-flier miles in recent years as he seeks to promote business, tourism, the Sisters Cities program and, more recently, Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

    But Heard said, “As a rule, the mayor travels commercial. Which is not to say he’s never flown on a private plane. But that’s certainly the exception and not the rule.”

    A mayoral confidante, who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged that the Daleys have traveled with Educap chairman and CEO Catherine Reynolds and her husband, Wayne, calling them, “big Washington players in the social and political world.”

    But the source said, “My gut is, if he did it one or two trips with those people, it would be a lot.”

    Wayne Reynolds serves as chairman and CEO of the Academy of Achievement, an organization that unites current and future world leaders for a weekend of seminars that once employed the mayor’s wife.

    In 2006, Maggie Daley reported earning $100,000 from the Academy of Achievement to sift through applications from Truman, Rhodes and Fulbright scholars and identify worthy students.

    In fiscal 2007, Maggie Daley was listed as the Academy of Achievement’s second-highest paid contract employee at $90,000. She no longer works there, Heard said.

    Five years ago, the Academy of Achievement’s annual summit was held in Chicago. Daley has been a guest speaker and a periodic attendee.

    In July 2007, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Daley had taken 67 out-of-town trips since January 2004 — nearly half of them entirely or partly funded by Chicago taxpayers.

    At the time, the mayor’s office said it did not maintain records on trips “not funded by the city.”

  3. Official: Clout got rookie job
    Inexperienced driver hit co-worker with truck
    By Jeff Coen, Laurie Cohen and Todd Lighty | Tribune reporters
    March 6, 2009
    On paper, a politically connected but inexperienced truck driver looked like one of the best candidates for a job driving a city garbage truck. Aides to Mayor Richard Daley gave her the highest possible scores for experience and driving ability.

    But six months after she was hired, the driver crushed another city worker against a telephone pole.

    On Thursday, a former city hiring official testified at a federal corruption trial that the ratings were a sham. The driver’s perfect scores were filled in after she was picked for the job by a high-ranking Daley lieutenant.

    The testimony may solve a mystery that came to light in 2006, when the Tribune detailed the accident and questioned how a member of a pro-Daley political group got her job. And it offered the latest glimpse into a scandal-plagued City Hall hiring system that has prized political pedigree over qualifications.

    Related links
    Hiring abuses continue, city monitor says The critically injured worker never returned to her job, and died last year. Her daughter, who blames the accident for ruining her mother’s life, said the new revelation only added to her outrage.

    “It just shows how corrupt it really is,” said the daughter, Angelique Boyd.

    The truck driver’s hiring was a focus at the federal corruption trial of Al Sanchez, the mayor’s former Streets and Sanitation commissioner. Sanchez, who left City Hall in 2005, is the highest ranking Daley aide to stand trial in a criminal investigation that has led to the convictions of six city workers.

    Thursday’s testimony came from Jack Drumgould, a retired personnel director in the Streets and Sanitation Department, who detailed how city hiring was based on applicants’ political connections, not their qualifications or skills.

    One of the cases highlighted by Drumgould was the hiring of the garbage truck driver, Denise Alcantar. She had no prior work experience as a truck driver.

    Alcantar was, however, a member of the influential pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization, which Sanchez helped lead. She was also a friend and office worker of another HDO leader, state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago).

    In 2006, Matt Smith, spokesman for Streets and Sanitation, told the Tribune that Alcantar’s hiring did not involve politics. Thousands applied, but Smith said Alcantar remained in the running because she had a trucker’s license—the minimum qualification for the job—and survived a lottery.

    But Drumgould on Thursday said Sanchez picked the names of Alcantar and other HDO-connected applicants off a hiring list—before she was even interviewed.

    When the interview day came around, those conducting the interviews had some specific instructions. “They were not to score the candidates,” Drumgould said.

    Ratings would be added in later, only after the mayor’s office had determined the final list of people who should be getting city jobs.

    Alcantar’s interview rating form, in which she was given the highest possible scores, was filled in well after the fact, Drumgould said.

    Asked Thursday about the conflict between Drumgould’s testimony and the city’s previous statements, Smith defended the city’s initial account. “At the time, we believed that both the documentation and answers to your questions were accurate based upon the information that was available to us,” Smith said.

    Alcantar declined to comment.

    In response to questions from Sanchez’s lawyer, Thomas Breen, Drumgould said Sanchez sought to hire people who were at least minimally qualified. Drumgould also conceded that many powerful politicians got jobs for allies and friends in Streets and Sanitation.

    For example, Drumgould said the department’s bureau of electricity was known as “Madigan Electric” because many of the employees were connected to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D- Chicago).

    Jurors have not heard testimony about the May 2003 accident that injured Earceen Alexander, a grandmother of 10. Alexander, who was standing on a platform at the side of the garbage truck, was pinned against the telephone pole as Alcantar wheeled the truck out of an alley.

    In 2007, an arbitrator for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled Alexander was totally disabled for life because of “devastating permanent traumatic injuries” from the accident, which damaged her lungs.

    Although Alexander died last year of congestive heart failure, Boyd blames her mother’s death at age 63 on the accident.

    Boyd said her mother was healthy and active before that, but became depressed and gained weight because she had to rely on an oxygen tank and was restricted to a wheelchair when she left the house.

    “My feeling is that woman had no business driving a truck,” Boyd said. “How she got hired, it was illegal.”

  4. Report: Streets and Sanitation hiring and promotions were rigged
    March 6, 2009

    BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
    Hiring abuses continue at City Hall nearly three years after the conviction of Mayor Daley’s former patronage chief — including some in the Department of Streets and Sanitation where former commissioner Al Sanchez is accused of rigging hiring and promotions, a federal monitor has concluded.

    Noelle Brennan’s quarterly report to U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen will not only embarrass the Daley administration. It’s almost certain to undermine the city’s efforts to get out from under the federal Shakman decree.

    Read the monitor’s report
    The report accuses the city of:

    • “Manipulating” Streets and Sanitation layoffs by ignoring union rules that required eleven sanitation employees to be “bumped” to lower paying jobs after dozens of their co-workers were fired Dec. 31. The names of six of the eleven “overpaid” employees appear on the infamous “clout list” made public during the 2006 trial that culminated in the conviction former patronage chief Robert Sorich. One of those targeted for demotion “received his job illegally,” according to testimony at the Sorich trial.

    • Failing to notify the monitor of attempts by elected officials to influence the personnel process. That included a written request from Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) for a more favorable job assignment or location for one of his constituents that was subsequently granted.

    • Undermining the Office of Compliance that’s supposed to be policing hiring, and refusing to allow the office to be involved in the recent layoff of 420 employees to make certain politics played no role in the process.

    • Directing a non-profit organization funded by the Department of Environment to hire two “pre-selected candidates” whose city hirings were stopped because of “improprieties” in the selection process or by budget constraints. Similar abuses occurred in the Health Department.

    • Adopting a “litigation approach” to dealings with Brennan over the last six-to-nine months “rather than working with the monitor to further the goal of substantial compliance.”

    Although the Daley administration appears to be regressing in its efforts to implement hiring system free of politics, Brennan concluded that it’s not too late to reverse course.

    But, it will only happen if the Law Department and others allow an Office of Compliance with “some of the nation’s top compliance professions” to “do its job” and disciplines individuals who “flagrantly violated the Shakman decree in the past,” she said.

    “By doing so, the city would send a clear message that political discrimination in all employment actions is not tolerated,” Brennan wrote.

    Sorich was convicted in 2006 of rigging city hiring and promotions-using sham interviews, fixed test scores and color-coded charts to track political sponsors — to benefit the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.

    The U.S. Supreme Court recently let his conviction stand. Sanchez is now standing trial on similar charges.

  5. March 6, 2009

    BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
    Nose-diving revenues have forced Chicago’s 2009 budget at least $10 million deeper into the hole — to a gap of well over $60.5 million — turning up the heat for more layoffs and union concessions.

    Mayor Daley’s $6 billion budget, passed in December, was balanced with 420 layoffs, slow police hiring and $52.5 million in taxes, fines and fees. At the time, Daley insisted his numbers should hold up “unless everything really goes into the sewer system.”

    Welcome to the sewer.

    November sales tax collections fell $3.2 million short of projections. The January take from the corporate personal property tax was $4.6 million off the mark. And February real estate transfer tax collections fell to $3.3 million. That’s $4.5 million below projections, and the worst monthly total since March 1996.

    Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Union Local 1001, said Thursday he’s prepared to “sit and listen” to city demands for union givebacks, but said, “I’m not jumping into the water. There are some things on the front burner that need to be addressed.”

  6. Sanchez trial will be its own fact-finding trip
    John Kass
    March 5, 2009
    Of all the free luxury trips Mayor Richard Daley and his wife, Maggie, have taken around the world—several of those trips reportedly courtesy of a funky student loan charity now under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service—there’s one place that our willful King Shortshanks should have landed.

    It’s not some exotic location.

    It’s not Dubai, or Sweden, or India, or Athens, or Paris. And it’s not riding bikes in Tuscany, sampling sushi in Japan or touring the old spice market in Istanbul, or wherever he goes on those so called “important fact-finding” trips of his, just after he rips on lowly city workers for being a bunch of lazy clock watchers.

    The location I have in mind is quite close. It’s just a short stroll from City Hall to 219 S. Dearborn

    That’s the federal courthouse where on Wednesday, Shortshanks’ loyal flunky, former city Streets and San boss Al Sanchez, stood his first day of trial. Sanchez is accused of rigging hundreds of city jobs and test scores to benefit his Daley-backed political group, the vast patronage army known as the Hispanic Democratic Organization.

    “His political organization was one of the most powerful organizations in the city,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Grimes in the government’s opening statement. “But they cheated the people of the city of Chicago.”

    In reality, HDO never belonged to Sanchez. It belonged to Daley, and everyone in politics knows it. Let’s use its proper name: Hispanic Daley Organization.

    There was Al, in a sweater, looking as benign as possible at the defense table, facing the jury. Unfortunately, there was no Daley sitting next to him, arm around Al’s shoulder, telling everyone, “Hey, Al is my guy.”

    And that’s sad because the Hispanic Daley Organization has thrown its muscle around Chicago in election after election, and Shortshanks himself supported it, allowing all chumbolones (taxpayers) to pay political workers who control the city for him.

    So where was Daley on Wednesday? Not at the federal building. He was in Florida, probably studying sunshine, munching on a scrumptious grouper sandwich.

    Officials of the Daley administration are upset now that CBS News reported the mayor and Maggie were part of a larger group of politicians flown around the world by EduCap, a non-profit student loan group that allegedly charges as much as 18 percent interest to impoverished students.

    At those rates, impoverished students would be better off getting a juice loan from a Chinatown bookie.

    Late Wednesday, City Hall officials said the Daleys took only one measly trip on the charity’s jet, to beautiful Singapore, not 58, as CBS reported.

    Let’s give the mayor the benefit of the doubt. It’s quite possible.

    It’s also quite possible that the mayor will call a news conference to finally explain who in his office promoted former gangbanger Angelo Torres to run his scandal-plagued Hired Truck program. And while he’s at it, he’ll explain how his brother Johnny Daley got all that insurance business from the Hired Truck boys and the wrought-iron fence contractors.

    But the IRS is investigating, and so is the Democratic-controlled Senate, and if they don’t get to the bottom of this, I’m sure President Barack Obama will order his two Daley guys—White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House political strategist David Axelrod—to investigate. Fully.

    All this means nothing to Al Sanchez. He won’t be taking any trips, unless he’s convicted. Then he might journey to exotic vacation paradises like Terre Haute, Ind., or Oxford, Wis., or wherever there’s a federal prison bunk with his name on it.

    Al might just lie awake at night, and when he hears a jet overhead, he’ll think of Daley on another fine vacation, Al weeping, saying to himself, over and over, “Wanna get away? Wanna get away? Wanna get away?”

  7. Kelly barred from doing business with city
    Recommend Comments

    March 6, 2009

    BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
    Chris Kelly — a perennial O’Hare Airport roofer and former chief fund-raiser to ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich — has seen his last city contract.

    The so-called “debarment” that took effect Friday prohibits Kelly, his BCI Commercial Roofing and any other company in which Kelly holds an interest from ever doing business with the city.

    Chief Procurement Officer Montel Gayles said the contracting equivalent of the death penalty was triggered by Kelly’s January guilty plea for using corporate funds to pay personal gambling debts.

    Three weeks later, federal prosecutors attempting to turn up the heat slapped Kelly with a second indictment — this time for winning $8.5 million in allegedly inflated roofing contracts from United and American airlines at O’Hare.

    Prosecutors accused Kelly of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to steer the contracts his way, then funneling $1.1 million through BCI to pay personal bills, including gambling debt.

    Gayles said Kelly had 30 days to challenge the city’s penalty, but offered no rebuttal.

    Kelly wrapped up work on his last city contract — for a few hundred thousand dollars— about six weeks ago, Gayles said. Kelly has raked in millions from the city since the early 1990’s.

    “There is some leeway. In certain instances, we have looked at debarring firms for lesser periods of time,” Gayles said.

    “In this instance, we felt that the accusation and the eventual pleading of guilty warranted debarment —the fact that the circumstances revolved around the use of city funds.”

    Mike Monico, an attorney representing Kelly, said “In all of his dealings with the city of Chicago, Chris Kelly and his company acted appropriately, and the city got full value for whatever service they paid for.”

    Last year, Gayles embarrassed and infuriated Mayor Daley with kid-gloves treatment of James Duff, head of a mob-connected family that became the poster child for minority business fraud in Chicago.

    Gayles banned Duff from doing business with the city for just three years, even though Duff pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $100 million in janitorial contracts earmarked for minorities and women. When African-American aldermen raised the roof, Gayles switched the punishment to a lifetime ban.

  8. Individuals seeking public records face daunting paper chase
    By Todd Lighty and Michael Hawthorne
    March 8, 2009

    Cindy Sauer had a 7-year-old daughter with brain cancer, a Minooka home near two nuclear power plants and a hope that she might find clues linking the two buried in records of government regulators.

    In 2002, without the benefit of lawyers to tailor her requests for public documents, Sauer embarked on an often-frustrating quest to learn as much as she could about spills of radioactive tritium from the Dresden and Braidwood plants owned by Exelon Nuclear.

    Sauer never found an environmental cause for her daughter’s illness. Still, her dogged push for records finally forced the state to acknowledge that huge and multiple radioactive spills had taken place and that Exelon had actively sought to thwart public discussion of them.

    It should have taken Sauer a matter of weeks or months to pry loose the information from the state, but foot-dragging prolonged the process for four years.

    “They used every stall tactic in the book, hoping we would just give up and go away,” Sauer said. “They acted like they owned documents that belong to the public. But we found out that they knew a lot more than they were willing to tell us.”

    Sauer’s saga is an all too familiar one in Illinois, where taxpayers are often confounded in efforts to gain access to information collected by local and state government—even though it is taxpayers who pay for those governments and the records they keep.

    Illinois’ 1984 open records law declares “that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them.”

    But the reality is something far less. Prying loose government records often becomes a maddening affair, with some agencies programmed to reject or ignore even the simplest requests while others concoct fanciful legal rationales as to why they need not comply.

    When it comes to fights over open records, the focus is often on journalists and activists who frequently want to scour official documents in a hunt for clues to government ineptitude, waste and even corruption.

    But more low-profile struggles go on every day. Parents with questions about school board practices, taxpayers with concerns about city zoning decisions, people with complaints about police brutality—all often find their search for answers in government records depends on the individual whim of a public official.

    When one of the many broadly worded exemptions in the open records law is pulled out of a hat, most people just give up. Once a government flatly rejects a records request, the only remedy under current law is to sue, something so costly and time-consuming that few records hunters dare pursue it.

    The result is a law designed as a safeguard against government secrecy has instead at times been used as an excuse to prevent the release of material that could uncover breaches of justice, fairness and public safety.

    Spurred by the arrest, impeachment and ouster of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinois leaders are now talking up their commitment to making government more accountable. And a revision of the open records law is under discussion.

    But up to this point, Sauer and many other citizens have learned how difficult it can be to gain a window on the operations of our public servants.

    Time and time again, state agencies made Sauer jump through hoops to see documents and then gave her just some of what she requested. At one point, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency chided Sauer for sending an appeal of a records rejection via fax instead of through the mail. Then he denied her appeal, again refusing to turn over the public records she wanted.

    The good news is that Sauer’s daughter, Sarah, survived her ordeal. Sauer eventually pried many key documents out of state agencies after teaming with a local park district where officials with deeper pockets and more expertise at their disposal had been asking similar questions but had also run into a stall.

    It took until 2006, but the pressure finally forced officials to disclose that the Braidwood plant had spilled millions of gallons of tritium, the radioactive form of hydrogen, on multiple occasions over a decade.

    “If you are steadfast and keep hounding them, you will end up getting some documents that might help,” said Sauer, whose family now lives in southern Indiana.

    The current open records law, known formally as the noble-sounding Freedom of Information Act, in theory guarantees anyone access to most public records within a maximum of 14 working days after a request is filed.

    But it also includes a raft of vaguely worded exemptions that give records custodians wide latitude to keep what they want under lock and key.

    And many public employees at every level of government treat records as if they personally own them, and they often see any requests as an act of hostility, said lawyer Terry Pastika of the Citizen Advocacy Center, a non-profit agency in Elmhurst that works for government accountability.

    “Their immediate response is either to ignore or automatically deny the request, hoping the person will go away,” Pastika said. “That works. The system is so stacked against the individual who is trying to get information that they just give up and walk away from what they are legally entitled to.”

    Yvonne Mayer ran into that wall two years ago.

    The Burr Ridge mother of four was in the audience at a January 2007 meeting of her local school board when she heard something she thought odd. One of the board members began questioning the conduct of his colleagues, saying they had improperly conducted board business in private by using personal e-mail accounts to discuss hiring a handwriting expert for $500 to peruse school documents.

    That piqued Mayer’s interest. She asked the district on multiple occasions to show records pertaining to the bill and those digital conversations to her but was often thwarted. The district, Hinsdale School District 181 in the western suburbs, refused to produce most of what Mayer asked for, arguing that it would be an invasion of privacy to force board members to turn over private e-mails even if they were used to discuss board business.

    A district spokeswoman said no one tried to give Mayer the runaround. “Not all documents in a school district are public records,” the spokeswoman said.

    But Mayer, who is now running for a seat on the board because of the hassles she experienced, said the resistance to her requests was a silly waste that cost more than the handwriting expert himself.

    “They put up wall after wall after wall,” complained Mayer. “They’re paying their lawyers to fight you. … The community has a right to know what’s being decided and for what reasons.”

    Sarah Klaper, an instructor at DePaul University College of Law, said she does not believe government officials instinctively act out of malice in denying records.

    Rather, officials often view a request for records as an “extra burden,” she said. “When you balance that burden against a citizen’s right to be informed and to have access to their government, it is a very small burden.”

  9. That was one of the best political interviews I ever saw.

    Al Sanchez should go to jail but so should Tim Degnan and Mayor Daley.

  10. SANCHEZ TRIAL | ‘Good driver’ disciplined in 5 work accidents
    March 12, 2009

    NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporter
    A city driver disciplined after five work accidents — including one that seriously injured a co-worker — told a federal jury Wednesday “yes, I am” a good driver.

    Denise Garcia Cortez’s remarks came during the corruption trial of Al Sanchez. She testified that she first got her job after doing political work for the Hispanic Democratic Organization. She said she was trained but had little experience.

    Last week, a witness testified that Cortez, whose name was Alcantar, won the job after Sanchez chose her from a political hiring list. Her test scores were doctored, former personnel director Jack Drumgould said.

    Cortez admitted on the stand she applied for her job, not at City Hall, but at a club where HDO met. She said she left it on the table and was later called in, and eventually hired in 2002.

    She was involved in two accidents her first year, including one that injured co-worker Earceen Alexander and one where she side-swiped another vehicle, which got her a two-day suspension.

    Asked by Sanchez lawyer Tom Breen if she was a good driver, she agreed.

    “Yes, I am,” she said, smiling.

    In all, she had five accidents, four of which she bore some of the blame for, city officials said. Her most recent was in 2007, when she was suspended for five days.

    Streets and Sanitation spokesman Matt Smith said Cortez received a written reprimand in the 2003 accident, where Alexander was pinned to a pole and thrown to the ground. Alexander later died.

    Smith said the city could not conclude that Cortez caused the accident. She was punished because she was involved in an accident at work.

    “My only conclusion [was] she was trying to reposition herself or lost her footing, I don’t know,” Cortez said on the stand. She described Alexander as a large woman in her 60s who had trouble getting on and off the back of the garbage truck.

    Cortez still works for the city and earns more than $63,000 a year.

  11. Man says he worked for Daley group and then got a job without applying
    By Todd Lighty

    March 13, 2009

    John Barrera wanted to work for the city, so he joined the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a feared political street army that wielded power over jobs inside Mayor Richard Daley’s administration.

    In his first political campaign for the group, he helped Ald. John Pope (10th) get elected ward committeeman in 2000.

    Later that summer, Al Sanchez, an HDO leader and Daley’s commissioner in the Streets and Sanitation Department, told Barrera the good news: He was getting a city job as a toll collector on the Chicago Skyway.

    It was a position he hadn’t even applied for yet.

    Barrera said he filled out an application for toll collector outside an East Side neighborhood bar about two weeks after meeting with Sanchez. He gave the application to Sanchez’s driver.

    Barrera told his story Thursday as a government witness against Sanchez, his former boss on trial on charges he rigged the city’s hiring system to reward the mayor’s political supporters with jobs and promotions.

    Barrera, who is now a Chicago firefighter, testified that he worked on 15 to 20 campaigns for HDO-backed candidates.

    One of Sanchez’s lawyers, Patrick Blegen, got Barrera to reveal to the federal jury that he had political connections of his own. Blegen suggested that was how he got his city job.

    Barrera acknowledged that his father was a former ward committeeman and that he started working on political campaigns as a child.

    On Thursday, Daley again would not answer questions about Sanchez’s trial.

    When reporters pressed the mayor to explain how one city employee got her job, Daley grew angry and shut down the line of questioning.

    “I’m not answering questions about that,” he said.

  12. By Jeff Coen

    Tribune reporter

    March 17, 2009

    Benita Mangrum made it bright and early to an interview for a job in Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department.

    Hoping to work in the bureau of electricity, she filled out paperwork that day in 2004, waited with about 100 other applicants and sat through questioning.

    “I remember they stressed safety,” Mangrum testified Monday at the fraud trial of former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez. “They asked me what hours I would be interested in working.”

    But the department really had no interest in Mangrum or anyone else who had no political connections and had done no campaign work, according to another trial witness who took the stand Monday. Hugh Donlan, the electric bureau’s personnel liaison, said applicants such as Mangrum were wasting their time.

    In fact, interviewers were told to not even fill out their rating forms. And if one was filled out by mistake, Donlan knew where to file it.

    “I’d put it in the garbage,” he said.

    Donlan was just the latest witness to tell the federal jury in the Sanchez case that the fix was in when it came to hiring at Sanchez’s department and others in City Hall. The city’s job rolls were filled by various street organizations that pushed candidates and took orders from the mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, witnesses have said.

    Sanchez is charged with mail fraud and accused of funneling jobs to his political workers in the once-powerful Hispanic Democratic Organization.

    Prosecutors rested their case after having Mangrum testify that she never even got a rejection letter from the city after her application in 2004.

    Lawyers for Sanchez and his co-defendant, Aaron Delvalle, are slated to put on their case Tuesday.

  13. anyone have an update on al sanchez’s sentence ( x sts & san comm chicago)
    i remember reading it was to be oct 18th 2010 but i still havent heard or read anything on this
    did he flip for govmt ?
    did he leave the country ?
    why the big secret on this ?

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