Chancellor’s new advisor has impressive resume

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Chancellor's new advisor has impressive resumeUniversity of Illinois

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The former director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture is signing on with UI.

Bob Flider, who also served as state representative for eight years, was selected as the director of community and government relations in the chancellor’s office.

His hiring is official Monday, pending approval by the Board of Trustees.

On top of being a senior advisor to Chancellor Robert Jones, the EIU grad will work on building relationships with local and state government officials.

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Chancellor’s new advisor has impressive resume

Is McCann part of Senate GOP caucus? Depends who you ask

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Is Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview still a member of the Senate Republican caucus? 

He thinks he is. The Republican leadership says he isn’t. 

Shortly after McCann released a video Thursday morning announcing that he is running for governor on the Conservative Party, the Senate Republicans issued a statement. 

“This morning, Sen. Sam McCann offered his resignation from the Illinois Senate Republican caucus and Leader Brady accepted,” the statement said. It was issued by Jason Gerwig, spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington. 

However, during a later interview, McCann said he only resigned his position as the top Republican on the Senate Public Health Committee. The highest ranking Republicans on General Assembly committees each get a $10,326 stipend for serving in the position. 

“I resigned the spokesmanship from the Public Health Committee,” McCann said. “I was elected as a Republican. I will continue to serve as long as Leader Brady continues to allow that. If he doesn’t want me to be a member of the caucus, you’ll have to verify that.” 

Asked about the possible confusion, Gerwig said the initial statement was accurate. 

–Doug Finke

Is McCann part of Senate GOP caucus? Depends who you ask

Lawmakers Seek Broader Reviews of Suburban Police Shootings

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Leading black lawmakers in Springfield say they will press to close a loophole in state law that allows suburban police to avoid administrative scrutiny after shooting people, an omission highlighted in a recent Better Government Association/WBEZ investigation.

“It’s outrageous,” said state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, responding to the probe’s findings that not a single officer was disciplined, re-trained or fired after 113 suburban police shootings over 13 years. What’s more, no reviews for policy violations or mistakes were conducted in the vast majority of those shootings.

“Absolutely a review should take place,” said Raoul, who is also the Democratic candidate for attorney general. “It’s worth me utilizing my energy towards doing something about it.”

kwame-raoul.jpgState Sen. Kwame Raoul. (Photo: Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus)

Those sentiments were echoed by state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, who heads the Senate black caucus and called the BGA/WBEZ findings “heartbreaking.”

“We’ve got to add this to our list of things we have to work on,” she said.

Both senators pushed hard in 2015 for police reforms in the aftermath of high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men in several cities, including Chicago. That 2015 reform package mandated independent reviews to determine whether officers committed a crime, but not for policy violations — an apparent oversight that ignored what many police experts argue is a fundamental police function.

“It is disturbing to me,” Raoul said during a recent interview in his Hyde Park office. “There is a presumption that police departments are doing what people expect police departments to do… So suffice it to say I am absolutely frustrated. I am absolutely frustrated as somebody who has spent hours and hours and days on law enforcement reform policy.”

Meanwhile, a proposal before the Cook County Board of Commissioners to assign the county sheriff’s office to help investigate policy violations at small departments has languished unheard for months, stalled in the Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

Perhaps one reason is the powerful police lobby, which has privately girded for a fight over the issue in Springfield, according to emails obtained by the BGA under the Freedom of Information Act.

“It’s stories like this that are going to feed into the narrative that we can’t do it ourselves and we need civilians to watch over us because we can’t be trusted,” wrote James Kruger, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, in one email to fellow police chiefs following the WBEZ/BGA report.

“While I would agree we should let our members run their own agencies, I’m sorry to say we are going to be dragged down to the lowest common denominator,” Kruger wrote as part of an exchange of emails discussing how to address the issue before state lawmakers.

The subject line on the email string: “BGA/WBEZ series on police shootings in the suburbs.”

View note

Following a recent meeting with Raoul to discuss the issue, Kruger said his group might support legislation to mandate procedural reviews of all use of force, including police shootings. But he suggested the organization’s support would wane unless the policy reviews were conducted under the purview of each department’s chief.

“I think it’s going to be very constructive potentially (to) have this legislation so that way there’s the utmost trust and confidence in law enforcement’s actions,” said Kruger, who is also the police chief in Oak Brook.

At deadline, no proposed legislation to address the issue had been filed. Raoul and other members of the 30-member legislative black caucus have long been at the center of efforts to curb police abuses and enhance police oversight, with limited success.

Two other members of the caucus — state Rep. Christian Mitchell and state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, both Democrats from Chicago — deferred to Raoul to comment. Messages left with other members of the black caucus were not returned.

The four-part BGA/WBEZ investigation identified dozens of questionable police shootings — most in predominantly black suburbs. They included 20 police shootings in which officers fired at moving cars, 30 in which suspects were unarmed and another half-dozen in which police shot each other or innocent bystanders.

National experts told the BGA and WBEZ that police often violated their own policies and best practices by ramping up confrontations instead of de-escalating them, endangered innocent bystanders and even tampered with evidence after a shooting.

Still, the investigation found that in 113 shootings, not a single suburban officer was disciplined, re-trained or fired after pulling the trigger. That’s because of an omission in the 2015 police reform bill — sponsored by Raoul and pushed by the black caucus — that mandated police shootings throughout the state undergo an independent investigation.

Many suburban police chiefs and municipal officials interviewed said they assumed the investigations, which are performed by the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force, also included reviews of whether officers violated policies, procedures and best practices. But the state police only look for criminal violations, a much higher standard than reviewing for mistakes, errant police tactics or violations of policy, all of which are far more common problems found in some police shootings, according to experts.

Raoul and other lawmakers interviewed for this report said they were surprised to learn such a fundamental police function as policy reviews after shootings was routinely ignored throughout suburban Cook County.

One example detailed in the BGA/WBEZ reports happened in south suburban Glenwood, where a retiree was shot and killed by a sniper’s bullet following an eight-hour standoff with police in which he pleaded 32 times for the SWAT team surrounding his house to leave.

“When you are in a little place like Glenwood, did anyone care, did anyone hear about it, did we know?” Hutchinson said. “All the oxygen gets sucked out of the room to the level of information that gets disseminated whenever anything happens in the city of Chicago.”

Chicago has its own bureaucracy in which its primary purpose is to conduct policy reviews in police shootings. Suburban police chiefs argued they lack the resources in cash-strapped towns to assign officers to do policy reviews.

Police experts interviewed called that an unacceptable excuse.

“That’s just a horrible way to run a police department, not to understand what your officers are doing or why they’re doing it, and not to critique them in their high-risk activities,” said Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and a leading researcher on police use of force.

“If they don’t, and they don’t learn, it’s going to come back at them again,” he said. “Every time they shoot a gun, the department, the chief, is responsible for explaining each bullet, why it was fired.”

Raoul said that while it is obvious police shootings should be investigated for mistakes, legislative efforts to enact sweeping police accountability reforms are often frustrated by a partisan climate, a strong police lobby and a lack of political will. For instance, he and other lawmakers have pushed unsuccessfully for years to mandate all police officers be licensed by the state.

“It should be the responsibility of every single legislator, every single individual and every single community to be outraged,” he said. “The black caucus by itself, guess what, is 30 people. It’s 20 people in one chamber, 10 in another. You can’t pass a bill with that. It’s got to be the responsibility of everybody.”

Raoul is locked in a battle to replace Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is not seeking re-election after 15 years in the post. Raoul’s Republican opponent is Erika Harold, an attorney in downstate Champaign.

In an earlier interview with WBEZ, Harold said she would push the General Assembly to amend the 2015 law to expand the scope of police shooting investigations and create a special agency similar to Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, perhaps on a countywide level, to investigate police shootings in the suburbs.

In Champaign, where Harold practices law, the police department routinely conducts internal policy reviews of police shootings, one of only a few smaller departments in Illinois the BGA found that do so.

Champaign Police Department internally investigated each of the city’s three police shootings since 2009, and as a result two police officers were suspended for their mistakes, records show. Command staff review each incident for policy violations and to identify areas where officers need to be retrained, said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb.

“It helps us to be defensible, to show the public what happened and to lay it out,” Cobb said. “We have seen multiple things come out of this that were beneficial because we took the time to examine these cases.”

Back in suburban Cook County, such examinations are almost non-existent.

Towns such as Calumet City, Dolton, Harvey, Markham, Riverdale and Maywood together accounted for about 40 percent of all police shootings, despite representing less than six percent of a suburban Cook County’s population of 2.5 million. The BGA found that although many of these police shootings in these municipalities raised serious questions, none of them were given the comprehensive procedural review that occurs in Chicago and Champaign.

Following the WBEZ/BGA reports, police chiefs strategized in a flurry of emails to fellow members of the police chiefs lobbying group about how to fend off any calls to action in the state legislature. Those communications were among hundreds of emails turned over to the BGA under a Freedom of Information request.

Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Kushner noted in one Jan. 9 email to his counterparts that the legislature is “decidedly anti police.”

“If we are not prepared to discuss this article and the ‘issues’ it raises, we are in for a long fight about use of force policies,” Kushner wrote.

Steven Stetler, a vice president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, suggested neutrality on the issue for fear that police peers might “turn against us.”

“What can we possibly say concerning their article that will not offend or piss off other departments?” Stetler wrote. “I don’t think we should defend or criticize, but stay real neutral and put everything on the individual department knowing they will handle each incident professionally and with transparency.”

View note

One Des Plaines Police Commander, Scott Moreth, sarcastically offered some insight into how some police professionals feel about legislative mandates in general.

In an email blasted to colleagues, Cmdr. Moreth suggested a new “investigative piece on how our police turds are ruining the plumbing in the building. … Maybe a lawmaker down in Springfield can mandate Metamucil supplements for all sworn officers next!”

J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor, pledged to organize task forces to examine the needs of local residents before offering a legislative fix.

“We can’t go for a one-size-fits-all solution, but we need to make sure that justice is being done and that in each of those circumstances, the communities are engaged in the process of the investigation,” Pritzker said. “These are not just suburban communities around Cook County but communities throughout the state where this is a major issue.”

Calls to both Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office and his re-election campaign were not returned.

Meanwhile, community leaders and police experts argue the status quo is unacceptable.

Rev. Lance Davis, pastor of New Zion Covenant Church in Dolton, said state law should mandate strict reviews for every situation where a police officer uses deadly force to pierce the “blue code” of police secrecy.

“There’s a loophole, but who enforces the loophole?” Davis said. “It’s the system that benefits off the demise of these folks.”

Wesley Skogan, an emeritus professor at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research and a prolific author on criminal justice, agreed.

“If you rely on these agencies themselves, it isn’t going to happen,” Skogan said. “In the policing world, small is dangerous. It’s the small places where, relatively, most of the nasty things happen.”

Lawmakers Seek Broader Reviews of Suburban Police Shootings

‘We need to be protected’

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One of the proposals stalled in the House, where Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, sponsored a measure to stiffen criminal penalties for attacking DCFS employees.

McCombie’s measure would make attacking a DCFS employee aggravated battery, a felony. It hit a snag last week when the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary-Criminal Committee rejected it.

She implored her colleagues to give it a rehearing during a state Capitol news conference Tuesday afternoon, noting that her measure simply would create the same penalty for DCFS workers that already exists for prison guards and caseworkers for the Department of Human Services.

“This bill is simply automatically upgrading the charges,” McCombie said. “It’s the first step in providing justice for these workers who put their lives on the line to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.” 

Members of Knight’s family – including her husband, Don, and daughter, Jennifer Hollenback – accompanied McCombie at the news conference.

The committee’s vote sent the wrong message, Hollenback said. She pleaded with lawmakers, “Please go back and provide these workers with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The measure also resonated with Trina Mayfield, a DCFS worker from Cairo, who has been off work since February after a woman whose child was taken into DCFS custody attacked Mayfield with a knife in the state office.

“When we go out and do a service for the public, we need to be protected while doing our job,” she said.

Earlier in the day, the House recognized Knight’s life and sacrifice by unanimously passing House Resolution 952, filed by McCombie. It mourns the death of Knight, who was based in the Sterling office of the Department of Children and Family Services.

“Pam Knight exemplifies what it means to be a public servant, and Illinois will miss her contribution and devotion to the children of this state immensely,” the resolution says.

Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat, wants attention paid to violence against other state workers.

His legislation, which moved to the Senate floor after committee approval Tuesday, would require DCFS and the Departments of Corrections, Human Services and Juvenile Justice to record and issue quarterly reports of violent incidents against state workers so officials may review the data for scope and trends.

It has the backing of the state’s largest public sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Aleana Lewis, a prison guard at Pontiac Correctional Center, was one of six officers injured in 2016 during an inmate fight. Publicity would be eye-opening, Lewis said, adding that what happened to her “is only a drop in the bucket of the violence that’s happening in our prison system that the public and the General Assembly don’t really hear about.”

The bills are SB4586 and SB3075. Go to ilga.gov to follow their progress.

‘We need to be protected’

Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot

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As if anyone needed another reason to oust Bruce Rauner, consider this: there will never be legalized marijuana in Illinois as long as he’s governor.

Just in case his attempts to bankrupt public education weren’t enough of a deterrent to voting for his reelection.

All right, on the week of 4/20, the time has come for me to answer a few questions about the state’s effort to catch up with the rest of the modern world and legalize reefer.

Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot

Illinois political climate impacting real estate industry

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The strife in Springfield, including over its budget, is having a trickle-down effect on the real estate industry, particularly among potential home buyers in border communities such as the Illinois Quad-Cities. 

That was among the issues discussed Monday as the Quad-City Area Realtor Association hosted a legislative breakfast to mark the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

Nearly 30 community, business and real estate leaders attended the event at Rock Island’s Martin Luther King Center, whose namesake was recognized by many for his influential role in the Fair Housing Act. 

Rep. Tony McCombie, who also works as a Realtor for Mel Foster Co. and a real estate appraiser, said common complaints about Illinois’ government can deter potential home buyers especially when they could live across the border in Iowa, Wisconsin or Indiana. “In Illinois, we are our worst own enemy. We need to change our conversation to what’s good in Illinois…,” she said. 

Real estate leaders said clients look at many comparables between Iowa and Illinois and taxes are a consideration as is location, schools, communities, quality of life and properties themselves. 

But when the total tax burdens of Iowa and Illinois residents are compared, “they are not that different,” said Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Rock Island. “What is killing us is the uncertainty, that is what is hurting Illinois.”

The audience quizzed legislators about education funding, pension reform, income taxes, the state’s backlog of bills and a variety of topics with direct and indirect impacts to the real estate industry. 

State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, said the state also needs to make good on its financial commitments, including paying its bills more promptly. “We have to make sure our local governments are getting the money that is yours.” 

According to McCombie, two new bills are aimed at the real estate industry, including one to give benefits for first-time home buyers who are saving for the down payment process and a bill concerning the education process for real estate appraisers. She said that industry is seeing declining numbers because of education constraints and fewer appraisers “will increase the cost of appraisals.”  

The 90-minute program also included a video looking at the history and accomplishments of the Fair Housing Act. 

“Fair housing for all is now a part of the American way of life,” said David Levin, president of the realtors’ association and vice president of NAI Ruhl Commercial Co.

But Levin, who also serves on Rock Island’s Human Rights Commission, said there still are cases of discrimination, including in housing issues. “It’s important as Realtors that we look at the ethical and moral reasons behind the Fair Housing laws and make sure we’re all on the same sheet of music.” 

Illinois political climate impacting real estate industry

Will Illinois Face Another Budget Impasse?

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Passing a state budget is arguably the most important thing the Illinois General Assembly does every year — or at least should do every year.

After last year’s drama — when a two-year standoff ended with a Republican revolt against Governor Bruce Rauner — it’s an open question about how things will go this year.

So I set out to answer a simple question: Will there be another impasse?

The question may sound simple, but the answer, like most things in state government, is complicated.

Lawmakers took a long break from Springfield, for the primary election and the usual recess around Easter and Passover.

As session resumed this week, I’ve been asking everyone I can: “Do you think there’s going to be another budget impasse this year?”

“That is the question,” says state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican from Mahomet.

“‘No’ is the short answer to your question,” Rose says. “But I think the next question you should ask is: ‘Will it be a 12-month budget?’ And I’m less convinced of that.”

Rose and some of his Republican colleagues have been repeating this message — accusing Democrats of wanting only a short-term spending plan. The idea, Republicans say, is that Democrats hope to retake the governor’s mansion this fall, then pass the kind of wild tax hikes and spending that Republicans say Democrats would love to do.

The thing is, when you ask actual Democrats if they’d prefer a half-year budget, they too are speaking in one voice.

“No. We’ve been consistent in saying we need a full-year budget,” says Rep. Greg Harris. He’s from Chicago, and he’s one of the House Democrats’ top budget negotiators.

“I don’t know why the Republicans keep fantasizing about a six-month budget, but they do,” Harris says. “Maybe it’s wishful thinking on their part. I don’t know.”

It’s worth pausing here to remember this is not just a political fight.

People who are outside the Capitol Building have been trekking in to remind legislators of the dire consequences in the last budget stalemate. And they’re warning that could happen again if there’s no agreement this year.

Among the institutions most hammered were Illinois’ public universities. At a recent Senate budget hearing, University of Illinois vice president Barbara Wilson talked about a faculty brain drain linked to the impasse.

“You may know that we’ve become a little bit of a poaching ground for many of our peer institutions, who have noticed our reputational hit and have come after a lot of our talented faculty,” Wilson says.

U. of I. has even learned of schools allocating money to specifically target U. of I. professors.

“We know for a fact that Texas — and I include Texas A&M and the University of Texas — have a special fund set aside to go poach Illinois faculty,” Wilson says. “We’ve been told that by numerous individuals, including some of the faculty they’re going after.”

Other state universities say the lack of state funding — and not just during the impasse — has left buildings crumbling.

“In my 11 years as the president, I haven’t seen any money for repairs,” says Elaine Maimon of Governors State University, in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Despite that, she says GSU cannot wait to repair its roofs. So it’ll have to issue bonds to raise the money it needs — but even that is contingent.

“We’ve been told, loud and clear, if there’s no state budget by May 31st, we’re not going to have that avenue,” Maimon says. “So there has to be a state budget.”

Which brings us back to the question we started with: Will there be a state budget this year — or another impasse?

I thought the last word on the subject should go to one of the people instrumental in ending the last impasse: state Rep. David Harris, a Republican from Arlington Heights.

“I don’t believe we’ll have an impasse,” Harris says. “I believe that by the end of this session, we’ll have a budget for the new fiscal year.”

Harris was among the 16 Republicans who broke with Gov. Rauner to help Democrats raise taxes, pass a spending plan, and end the impasse.

He says the dynamics have changed from last year. Because of that vote to raise taxes, this time no legislator will have to make that politically difficult choice. And Harris points out that the governor’s own budget proposal counts on money from that tax increase.

So, with seven weeks to go in the spring legislative session, the consensus under the dome seems to be that no, there will not be another impasse.

Then again, a few years ago no one predicted Illinois would go years without a budget, and we know how that story ended.

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Will Illinois Face Another Budget Impasse?