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Dumped-On Englewood Watchdog Blasts City, Bags Clean-up

Englewood resident and watchdog Theresa Jones got new neighbors a few weeks ago: bags and bags of garbage. Like any rotten neighbor, the trash attracted squatters—rats big and mischievous enough to trip Jones’ home security alarms and leave “droppings on her daughter’s bed.” That was the last straw for Jones. The BGA and FOX Chicago News’ Dane Placko report:

CHICAGO—Cleanup crews began removing bags of garbage and piles of yard waste from two vacant lots in the Englewood neighborhood on Monday. But neighbors said that—ironically—the cleanup crews are the same people who dumped the garbage in the first place.

Air Force veteran Theresa Jones bought a house next door a year ago. She said that last summer, the city left piles of tree debris on the vacant lot, which then began accumulating garbage. Then a couple weeks ago, she said a man showed up with his crew and began dumping bags of garbage and yard waste onto both empty lots.

Englewood watchdog Theresa Jones called foul on the dumping going on next to her house

“They were bringing garbage over and when they saw me taking pictures they got belligerent, called me names,” Jones said. “I said, ‘I’m taking pictures because I pay taxes here. I’m a resident here. And just because this is Englewood doesn’t mean you can come here and trash the place.'”

Shortly after the garbage arrived, so did the rats—some so big they tripped her home’s security alarm and left droppings on her daughter’s bed.

Jones said when the crew returned over the weekend to dump more garbage on the lot, she called the police.

“They said we can’t do anything about it—he has the paperwork,” said Jones.

She assumed the dumper had a permit, but then he told her he owned the property and he could do whatever he wanted with it. Jones had enough, and sent out an e-mail blast to city agencies and news media, which may have prompted Monday’s cleanup.

We tracked down the apparent dumper/owner, Kato Tamras, and he refused to talk.

Jones said she’d asked him if he would dump garbage like this next to his own house.

“He said, ‘Oh well, I don’t have a lot next to my house,” she said.

Indeed, we found nothing but pristine property surrounding the Tamras family’s massive home in Lincolnwood. Unlike Englewood, nobody was dumping garbage there.

If you have information or a similar encounter relevant to this article, share your stories and experiences with the BGA.

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Is Help on the Way for City’s Troubled 911 System? We’re Still Waiting…

Chicago Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) had a bit of a problem a few months back at her ward office in the Austin area.

A volunteer who had been acting strangely was told that his services were no longer needed, and he got belligerent with the alderman’s staff, Graham said. So her employees called 911 and they…well…they waited. And waited. And waited.

How long?

According to the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC)—which does the emergency dispatching—it took about nine minutes to farm out the call to the cops (just within the 10-minute window for these types of calls.) After that, it appears to have taken another 15 to 20 minutes for officers to get to the scene, according to an OEMC spokesman.

“I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m the alderman and can’t get a car to come!'” Graham told the Better Government Association in a recent interview.

Residents of the Far West Side ward say, Welcome to the club.

One of the most pressing issues in the area is how police respond to emergency calls. Residents aren’t just concerned about response times, but about which calls get priority and, frankly, which calls get blown off.

And plenty seem to get ignored, residents told the BGA, although the cops dispute that claim.

Serethea and Ron Reid have become so alarmed by slow and non-existent 911 response, they've formed a community organization to make their voices heard.

“It’s the only place probably in the country where this happens: you call the police and they don’t come,” said Ron Reid, who, with his wife Serethea, helped to create the Central Austin Neighborhood Association this past summer to pressure the cops and city to more aggressively address crime and other quality-of-life issues.

The Reids attended one of our BGA Citizen Watching Training Programs in Austin a couple months ago. And they told us about the 911 problem. Which led to an investigation we conducted with FOX Chicago News.

Our joint partnership revealed the city plans to alter the current 911 system and weed out certain categories of response. In other words, certain “quality-of-life” calls—barking dogs, crying babies, stumbling drunks—may no longer prompt a police response. Rather, such calls could be diverted to other city departments, or even to the web where residents would fill out reports online.

The aim isn’t bad: the city’s trying to improve response times and focus on the most serious incidents.

But just how bad are Chicago’s response times?

We were only able to get a handle on Graham’s incident because we hounded OEMC for weeks.

But trying to get an answer on how responses are handled citywide, ward-by-ward or district-by-district, forget it. You have a better chance—at least as of now—of winning the lottery than obtaining that information.

The Daley administration cites “security reasons” in refusing to release it. But that doesn’t pass the smell test.

Are police and dispatch response times so bad that officials don’t want to show the data to anyone, including the communities that have the most at stake? Or is it that some wards, districts or neighborhoods get fast responses while others wait an intolerable amount of time? That is something the public has a right to know as we look at the distribution of police manpower across the city. And assess the performance of police within a given ward or district or community. We’re not asking for the response time in a particular block, which could leave citizens vulnerable. But there is no security issue in disclosing response times in large geographic areas.

If you agree, or think this merits further discussion, we urge you to contact the following officials:

OEMC Executive Director Jose Santiago: 312-746-9111

Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara Georges: 312-744-0200

And we urge the incoming mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to commit to greater transparency so we can better police the people whose salaries we pay, and who are entrusted with protecting Chicagoans. Meanwhile, we encourage you to follow the example of the Reids and attend one of our watching training programs.

You can learn about the program and watch a training video on our web site. The more eyes and ears we have in our good government campaign, the more likely it is that we will eventually have the good government we deserve.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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Local Watchdog Empowered by Feb. FOIA Clinic

“I attended the FOIA seminar on Thursday, Feb 10, 2011. I could not believe how much power a humble citizen can have if he/she finds the right information regarding various responsibilities of taxpayers’ paid agencies/departments. I was shocked how little I knew about my rights to information about my children’s school—but I learned how to be persistent in getting that information. I would think that this type of seminar should be mandatory for high school and college students. I am grateful that there are attorneys who volunteer to teach us, “the ignorants,” how to get the information, and then to use it in making life better for all of us. Lets do it again—sometime in spring?”  — Anna Klocek, Feb. 12, 2011

Thanks for the feedback, Anna! We should have another Free FOIA Clinic soon.

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Upcoming Event: ABCs of School Funding

Registraion is recommended for the Feb. 8 event: http://blainepta.weebly.com/martire.html

Interested in learning more about education funding? Check out this free discussion on Feb. 8, 2011: ABC’s of School Funding.

And coming soon the BGA begins a new program: Citizen Watchdogs of Education. We’ll teach you how to monitor the management of your local schools and how to understand those school budgets. More info soon!


Filed under Education, Events, Watchdog Training

BGA Citizen Watchdogs Sound Alarm Over Slow 911 Response Times in Austin

Serethea and Ron Reid have become so alarmed by slow and non-existent 911 response in Austin, they've formed a community organization to make their voices heard.

By the Better Government Association,
Dane Placko/FOX Chicago News

CHICAGO — When you call 911, you hope the police will respond in a matter of minutes.

But some residents of Chicago’s West Side Austin neighborhood just hope they’ll see a police car at all.

Ron and Serethea Reid have become so alarmed by slow and non-existent 911 response, they’ve formed a community organization to make their voices heard. They said if it’s a shooting or major emergency, the police will get there—sometimes quite quickly. But it’s a different story, they said, for quality of life issues like drug sales, public drinking and fights.

“There’s been far too many instances where there’s been no response at all,” said Serethea Reid.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), whose office is in the Austin police district, said even she had to wait when she called 911 because an upset young man was in the office.

The police department took their time coming, at least it felt that way,” said Graham.

Since sounding the alarm last summer, the Central Austin Neighborhood Association has met several times with high ranking police officials and Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management (OEMC). But when they ask for specific information about 911 response times in their neighborhood, they’re told again and again they can’t have those numbers because the city doesn’t want the bad guys to know where response is slow.

“If we start making public response times, we’re creating a situation that could be an advantage to someone other than these good citizens,” said OEMC Deputy Director Clarence Thomas.

We got the same answer when we tried digging into last summer’s fatal shooting of nine-year-old Tanaja Stokes. She and her seven-year-old cousin were jumping rope in the Roseland neighborhood when a crowd of gangbangers began shouting at one another. A neighbor who does not want to be identified called 911, but said it took police more than 15 minutes to respond. By then, Tanaja had been caught in gang crossfire.

“If (the police) would’ve come when I called… those boys would have seen the police and they probably would have kept going,” said the neighbor.

We wanted to know whether that call got the same attention as other 911 calls throughout the city. But the OEMC has refused all our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for 911 response times for each police district.

“This is a work in progress, and it’s a work in progress in partnership with the citizens of the community,” Chicago Police Commander Jim Roussel said. “So all the questions that are being raised are great questions and we need to have honest, forthright conversations about it.”


Filed under Watchdogs in the News

Short-Term Appointment is Deciding Vote on Taxes, Death Penalty

As published on The Welles Park Bulldog News, by Patrick Boylan

Kathleen C Moore, a retired school teacher from Lincoln Park, was appointed by 11th legislative district Democratic committeemen to fill the term of John Fritchey late last year. During her short term in office Moore voted on more than twenty bills. Her votes include being the deciding vote on both a $6 billion increase in personal income taxes and a moratorium on the Illinois death penalty.

(Patrick Boylan/Welles Park Bulldog)

The appointment of Moore was made despite Ann Williams’ (D-Hamlin Park) election to the post in the November 2010 election. Williams was sworn in as the 11th District state legislator on January 12th.

Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D- Boys Town) told The Bulldog Moore was one of many people considered by the committeemen to replace Fritchey. “Ann Williams was unavailable to be seated,” Feigenholtz said.

Feigenholtz said Moore has “been an active member of the community for a long time.” She said, “the Moore’s have lived in Lincoln Park for decades and are active members of St. Clement’s Church.”

The 11th district became open on December 28th following the resignation of John Fritchey (D- DePaul West). Fritchey was elected to the Cook County Board in the election. Fritchey was sworn into his county board seat on December 6th.

Under Illinois law, committeemen of the party that won the seat meet to consider filling the vacancy. The committeemen vote on a replacement with their vote weighted according to the vote of the winning candidate.

In this case, the committee used the weight from Fritchey’s unopposed 2008 run. If they had been replacing Ann Williams, they would have used the 2010 election returns.

According to Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, the committeemen choose Moore because Williams’ vote for the tax increase was not certain. “There were questions about how she would vote if a tax plan was on the lame-duck agenda.” Shaw wrote on the BGA site Williams claims that local Democratic leaders, including Fritchey and Senate President John Cullerton, wanted her commitment to support the tax hike before arranging for her to be sworn in.”

Fritchey responded to Shaw’s post “at NO time did I ever pressure, or even ask, Ann Williams to vote for an income tax hike.” (Emphasis from original response).

Fritchey said in his response to Shaw he told Williams she should accept an early appointment. “I told her my position was not predicated on how she would vote on any issue, including an income tax vote.”

“Ann Williams informed me that she did not want to be appointed early,” Fritchey wrote.

Fritchey took aim at Williams saying “being a legislator entails making both hard votes and easy votes. Williams’ decision to avoid… those votes any sooner than she had to was a decision made solely by her.”

A person claiming to be Moore entered an on-line discussion regarding Moore’s appointment to say “how did I get appointed in the first place? We have been personal friends of the Cullertons for 35 years. Through John we know Sara Feigenholtz, who suggested my name to one of the Ward Committeemen…”

Feigenholtz did not disagree with that statement when it was read to her Friday. However the identity of the on-line person could not be confirmed Friday.

Moore and her husband Thomas Moore, an attorney at Anderson & Moore, PC, are prolific political contributors. Searches of Illinois and federal records show $32,688 in contributions by the couple since 1996. IL Senate President John Cullerton’s (D-Ravenswood Manor) campaign received $2,250 from the couple. Though they are not recorded as having contributed to Cullerton since 2000. Feigenholtz’s campaign received $550 for a federal campaign and $750 for a state campaign.

The committeemen would have been familiar with the Moore’s too. Patrick O’Connor noted receipts of $1,000 for a federal campaign, Fritchey received a $1,000 for his federal campaign.

According to Fritchey, the committee voted unanimously to select Moore.

Shaw says Moore wasn’t happy with the tax increase but didn’t see there was any other choice. Shaw says she admits to not having seen the bill, a press release, a fact sheet, list of cuts, streamlining or accountability measures as of last Sunday. Moore approved the $6 billion bill Tuesday sending the bill to a rare midnight session of the Senate.

Time was of the essence as the new legislature would be sworn in at noon Wednesday. Shaw notes Williams would have had a hard time supporting the tax bill in its present form.

Moore was an unknown in Springfield. Although she was listed as the state rep on the Wicker Park/ Bucktown Chamber of Commerce page, no photo of her was posted on the legislative web site. A staffer from the house majority party said they had no way to contact her. “I never had any contact information for her,” a person there told The Bulldog.

An attempt was made to contact all the persons named in this post by telephone or e-mail, except for Jesse Ruben Juarez and Andy Shaw. A message was passed to Moore through an acquaintance.

Click here to read more on the Welles Park Bulldog site and to see supportive documents.

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