Ethical Government in Chicago?


Test the actual soil underlying Chicago City Hall.

No one would be surprised if trace elements of ethical lapses were somehow ingrained in the earth.

It’s been that way since the first Indian standing watch one dark night on the shores of the Big Lake watched the first smiling white man jump from the canoe, yell a hearty hello and set the standard price for anything as being ten cents on the dollar.

With a wink and a handshake. It’s always been that way. Because we’ve always been able to pay the cost. Be it in dollars, culture, human suffering, a strange kind of pride or even bottled up rage. We have always paid the cost for turning away from the smoke of the roaring ethical fires.

But now we can’t afford that anymore. The money’s shriveled up. So now it might change.

Yesterday, Mayor Emanuel appointed an Ethics Reform Task Force unlike any ever seen in this city.

A group of four who have made careers based on being ethical.

Their task is to review Chicago’s Ethics Ordinance. And then make it work. Make it stronger.

Cindi Canary will chair the Task Force. Cindi Canary is a groundbreaking force in city and state ethical reform. Her organization is the “Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.” Pore over any tiny or large steps forward in the fight for government accountability in Illinois and you will find her name.

Alderman Will Burns, who along with counterparts like Alderman Ameya Pawar, has been part of the new crop of city leaders. Leaders who focus on social justice organizations ranging from The Mikva Challenge and the Shriver Center for Poverty Law to The Common Pantry—Chicago’s longest operating Food Pantry.

And if there is any concern at all that real political change needs more than sunlight to make it work, Sergio Accosta, the third member of the group, is a former supervising U.S. Attorney specializing in areas like criminal civil rights.

Turns out that civil rights violations are still crimes.

But it’s the fourth member of the panel that brings the golden soul of the city into the mix of this new effort. Her name is Dawn Clark Netsch. She’s a former State Comptroller, State Senator and gubernatorial candidate. All facts. None of which give substance to the story of why she could be the soul of the new ethics machine.

It’s a short story—but its telling.

Back when there were only two telephone companies, I opened up the effort to sell the little telephone company, MCI, into Illinois State Government. I found a partner to help me learn the backstreets, darkened hallways and phone numbers of Springfield, a state political capital that made Chicago look like Andy Griffith’s home town Mayberry.

In the rotunda of the state capital, pretty much every door was closed up tight to me and my little telephone company. Most times no one even wanted to talk. And I mean not even talk about the weather. Everyone but Dawn Clark Netsch.

It was a simple thing. She didn’t know me. I never made a deal with her. Never even a formal meeting. But she was accessible. She talked to anybody. Even me. And that simply didn’t happen anywhere else. Not without access. Not without knowing someone who knows someone else.

Flash forward decades. I’m walking my dog in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. And she’s walking her dog. She stops. She chats. That regular nodding hello that fellow dog lovers have. She’s still open to the world.

And that would be the first key strategy of the new ethics task force.

Be open to the world.

The Mayor tried to do that in his transition. But he failed. You still had to be in the club. The great blogger driftglass’s 2 rules of Chicago politics:

1. There is a club.

2. You’re not in it.

Those two rules still own the day.

But what if that could change? What next?

Next is a mapping of the problem as a systemic problem. It’s not a problem where catching one rogue rascal with his hand in another’s pocket solves anything. It’s about a system.

And third, it’s about performance standards and measures that sound a bit different from the norm.

Turns out that notions of confidence, integrity, pride and passion really can be measured in the laboratory of opinion.

So the right people are on board. All four of them. Especially my hero, Dawn Clark Netsch.

And the right strategy can be put in place:

1. Accessibility and Transparency from those who serve the public.

2. Mapping the system to really grasp the full problem.

3. Performance standards and measures—to drive the real, concrete action that could produce something none of us have ever seen before, something most of us think isn’t even possible.

A renewed Chicago. Known for the ethical standards we practice.

This group could make it happen. And if they need any help?

I’m ready now.

Course, I don’t really know anybody.

But I’m ready and qualified now.

Do you suppose that matters?

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One Response to “Ethical Government in Chicago?”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    Politicians that are accessible? Wow, what an idea! It is the same in business, some leaders, CEO’s etc. are accessible while others never see anyone other than their inner circle of advisors. Ethics in government? With all we have seen the last few decades (greed, corruption, sex scandals etc.) ethics in government almost seems like a myth or an element no one cares about or even thinks should exist. I hope what Mayor Emanuel is proposing yields some positive results. Now if they could alter the 2 Rules of Chicago Politics to let “outsiders” in it would be a complete effort and complete the circle of hope.

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