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Doomsday Clock ticks for Illinois

Remember the ominous “Doomsday Clock” with its symbolic “countdown” to a global disaster like nuclear war, and more recently, climate change? It’s also a useful way to consider another potential disaster much closer to home: Government meltdowns at all levels over the daunting challenge of funding retiree pensions and medical benefits, and providing basic programs and services, without imposing huge tax increases that drive businesses and individuals out of Illinois, or massive layoffs and draconian spending cuts that hurt people. 

'Crash tax' a jolt for distressed drivers

One of our jobs at the Better Government Association is to look for warning signs that suggest trouble may be on the way. And with that in mind, I point to a recent BGA investigation that sounds the alarm at a number of Chicago-area fire departments, but not because there’s an actual blaze. This alert is sparked by a growing and potentially troubling trend in emergency service that requires victims of car accidents to help fill municipal budget holes. It’s known as a “crash tax,” and it’s quietly showing up in more and more communities as fire departments struggle to make ends meet.

Baby step on road to City Council ethics reform

The Emanuel administration apparently made enough progress in wringing illegal politics out of hiring, firing and promotions at City Hall to finally shed the yoke of  a court-appointed monitor who’s been policing personnel decisions for the past decade. 

Angry crowds of citizens, like this one at a Cicero Town meeting in 2005, can play a role in keeping government meetings open and honest, says Andy Shaw | Sun-Times file

Let's hear it for a citizen's arrest of a county board

You’ve seen it before — riveting images of torch-and-pitchfork-wielding citizens so angry they’re not going to take it anymore. It came to mind recently when we heard a civic variation on the vigilante theme playing out at a public meeting in Clark County, 80 miles southeast of Champaign.

Taxpayers shouldn't trust public officials when they say the nonprofit running Navy Pier doesn't need to show its books to the public, writes Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association. | Sun-Times File Photo

McPier is taking you for a ride

There’s a new attraction at Navy Pier — “The Big Spin” — and we’re not talking about a Ferris wheel that goes around at $7 a pop. This is a verbal fantasy ride, courtesy of Navy Pier officials, but we’re not hopping on, and you shouldn’t either.

Sun-Times file photo

Lindblom High: A South Side success story

A dramatic story is unfolding on Chicago’s South Side, but it’s not the one we’re most familiar with — the heartbreaking gang violence that terrorizes residents of all ages and traumatizes entire neighborhoods. This is a good news story about something that’s going right, and the lessons we can learn from the positive experience.

Hits and misses in Springfield's game

The Illinois General Assembly’s action, and inaction, resembles a grab-bag gift, or the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box — you never know what you’re going to get or whether you’ll like it. So it’s no surprise that when the curtain came down on the spring session in Springfield last month, the audience was left with a few satisfied smiles, a few disappointed frowns, and one gasp of exasperation.

Rep. Jerry Costello was all smiles when he was on his way to 2011 news conference announcing he would not seek re-election in 2012. Now out of office, Costello is a highly-paid lobbyist. | Associated Press

Pol-turned-lobbyist breaks no laws, just trust

Former Congressman Jerry Costello provides another example of why “revolving door” lobbying restrictions need to be tightened at every level, from local city councils to the nation’s capitol.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez stopped responding to FOIA requests, even though her office had its own compliance officer. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Keep shining light on government

The key to our watchdog work — shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable — comes down to a single word: Transparency.