- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 14, 2016

Belleville News-Democrat

Townships are a form of welfare - for government employees

Taxes are necessary for the common good, right? So there is a special responsibility for those who take our taxes to ensure the money is spent efficiently, used frugally and delivers value.

Examine the finances of a township government and you will have a tough time believing anyone involved cares anything about those standards.

Townships exist in the netherworld between the layers of municipal and county government. In rural areas they often care for roads, but in municipal areas they often care for their own.

Belleville Township, East St. Louis Township and Granite City Township have no roads. They exist exactly within the boundaries of their respective cities.

So what is their purpose? They deliver an amount set by state law at up to $245 a month per needy person who is not a child, not elderly and not on another government program. That’s a pretty limited mission and a haphazard way to help the poor.

Belleville Township, which took state action and nearly required an Act of God to start its long, continuing demise, was delivering 19 cents in aid for every $1 taxed. East St. Louis Township, which convicted former supervisor Oliver W. Hamilton was treating like his personal ATM, delivered 18 cents in aid for every $1 taxed.

Granite City Township and East St. Louis Township each collected just about $1.6 million from taxpayers in 2015. But even with all the corruption and thievery taking place in East St. Louis Township, it still managed to hand the poor more aid than did Granite City Township. Granite City Township handed out $189,500, which would be less than 12 cents of every $1 taxed.

Like the other townships, Granite City Township exists for its employees, not for the residents. Forty-seven people drew paychecks from the township totaling $865,839 in 2015. Their retirement costs came close to the amount of assistance delivered. They had about $700,000 in cash assets - excess money collected from taxpayers.

Unlike the other townships, Granite City does offer the town hall as a senior center where you can play pinochle on Tuesday afternoons. It also houses an assessor’s office that took one-quarter of the $1.6 million. There is a meals on wheels program. There is a senior van, which duplicates the county transit services.

But like every township, the legitimate government functions can be absorbed by a municipality or the county. The charity functions can be absorbed by a church or a real charity.

If there was once a legitimate public need that these three townships fulfilled, it is long past. Illinois can afford to shed some of its nation-leading 6,963 layers of local government, and you can’t afford for them all to continue.


January 13, 2016

Chicago Tribune

Can Paul Vallas save the struggling university?

At Chicago Public Schools, he reversed years of budget deficits without begging the General Assembly for a bailout. He did here what he replicated elsewhere: He swung a sledgehammer. Fearless and focused, Vallas wasn’t afraid to take Chicago’s public school system to the studs, then rebuild.”

That’s what we said about former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas when Gov. Pat Quinn picked him as his running mate. We smiled then and we smile even more now as Vallas joins the board of trustees at another educational institution desperately in need of reform: Chicago State University.

Vallas will need to wield that fiscal sledgehammer in his new role starting Monday. And he’ll need that fearless, no-nonsense attitude at a university with a long history of mismanagement, cronyism and academic failure.

Here’s what CSU can count on: Vallas will focus on educating students. On boosting graduation rates. On sweeping aside sclerotic policies and patronage hires from previous regimes.

Vallas and other new board members named by Gov. Bruce Rauner - Chicago attorneys Tiffany Harper and Nicholas Gowen and World Sport Chicago Executive Director Kam Buckner - face a daunting challenge to rescue CSU. The university could exhaust its financial reserves before the end of the academic year, forcing more cuts unless there’s an infusion of state cash.

In recent days more bad news, borne of years of cronyism and mismanagement: The cash-parched university agreed to pay more than $1 million to end a lawsuit brought by former high-ranking administrator Glenn Meeks, who claimed he was fired after reporting alleged misconduct by the school’s former president, Wayne Watson.

The university itself could be on the hook for a potential settlement of $5 million or more to former university attorney James Crowley, who also alleged misconduct by Watson.

Remember, CSU also shelled out $600,000 last fall to oust former president Thomas Calhoun Jr., who’d spent only nine months on the job. Why? The board never offered an explanation.

Last fall, we urged Gov. Rauner to fire CSU board members who voted to oust Calhoun without a candid public explanation and to demolish the status quo. The appointment of Vallas and his colleagues to the eight-member board, assuming they’re gung-ho for reform, is a terrific start.

But this won’t be a quick fix. Nor can Vallas & Co. count on a windfall of state funding to help. Around the state, many universities are tightening their belts and warning that they’ll barely limp through the academic year because the state’s budget stalemate has crimped the flow of cash to higher education.

That’s why we believe Chicago State’s newly energized board should explore another option: A full-blown takeover by a stronger university. One candidate we’ve heard floated: the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Illinois once had a more centralized system. But in 1995, the General Assembly broke up what was known as the “system of systems” - four governing boards representing 12 universities - in favor of local control. That added five more governing boards. The goal: reduce administrative costs and increase accountability. The result: none of the above.

Vallas has deep experience in reviving faltering school systems to better serve students. Get ready, CSU. The sledgehammer is going to swing.


January 12, 2016

Rockford Register-Star

Adam Kinzinger bill a good step toward helping survivors of human trafficking

When you hear “human trafficking” you think of little girls being abused in countries far away from the United States.

Not so. Human trafficking - prostitution, the sex trade, human slavery - is taking place in all 50 states and is a critical issue in Illinois and the city of Rockford.

Illinois is ranked fifth nationally, and Rockford is ranked second in Illinois for human trafficking.

U.S. Rep Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, is aware of the magnitude of the issue and, along with Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, introduced legislation that would help health care professionals identify and help victims of human trafficking.

“Training health care professionals, and in particular emergency room personnel, is an essential step in reaching survivors of human trafficking,” said Jennifer Cacciapaglia, president of Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. “Health care professionals are in a unique position to come into contact and speak alone with victims, and we know from speaking with survivors that many of them wished a nurse or doctor would have asked the right questions.”

The introduction of the legislation coincides with January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Jan. 11 was designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in 2007.

The Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Act, H.R. 5405, would support training for health care professionals who could encounter victims of human trafficking.

“I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of the SOAR Act, and I believe this pilot program will have a significant impact towards identifying cases of human trafficking and helping more victims across the country from this disgusting crime,” Kinzinger said in a statement released Wednesday.

Wagner is a longtime advocate of legislation combating sex trafficking and online exploitation of minors.

“This legislation will provide health care providers on all levels with the appropriate training and tools necessary to identify and report potential cases of human trafficking,” Wagner said in a statement. “With tens of thousands of victims being trafficked in the United States each year, I am happy to work with my colleagues across the aisle to introduce and quickly pass this legislation.”

Human trafficking is NOT a victimless crime. The average age of a girl lured into the sex trade is 13-14 years old. That’s a very vulnerable age when girls can easily be enticed by the promise of jewelry, money and love.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally and that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry. Of the victims, 68 percent were trapped in forced labor; 26 percent were children, and 55 percent were women and girls.

Although there is no official estimate of the number of human trafficking victims in the U.S., Polaris, a nonprofit that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking, estimates that the number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands.

In 2015, an estimated 1 out of 5 runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.

Pimps use a variety of psychological and physical abuse to keep young girls and women in their stables. Survivors have rates of post traumatic stress disorder that exceed those of Vietnam War veterans.

Survivors need programs that provide safe shelter, access resources and deliver services designed for those who have experienced trauma.

The SOAR legislation is a step toward getting the survivors the appropriate help.

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