Corruption Study Author Calls for Greater Suburban Oversight
Former Chicago alderman and current political science professor estimates corruption costs taxpayers $500 million each year.
The message is simple: corruption exists in the suburbs.
How it is fixed is more complex, according to Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who now teaches political science with a focus on public corruption.
"The Chicago metropolitan region is the most corrupt metropolitan region in the United States," Simpson said Monday night during a forum at Elmhurst College.
Simpson co-authored "Green Grass and Graft: Corruption in the Suburbs," a report detailing how widespread the problems have been outside Chicago. Specifically, Simpson mentioned how at least 60 different communities have seen some type of corruption.
"Although Chicago grabs the headlines, our entire metropolitan area is harmed by corruption," Elmhurst College's Director of Urban Studies Constance Mixon said. "Graft does not stop at city boundaries."
An audience of about 50 students and area residents listened to Simpson offer abridged versions of examples contained in the study. Elmhurst is not specifically referenced for any issues with public corruption, but Simpson offered an unflattering comparison between DuPage County and Chicago.
"DuPage County is a mirror image of Chicago, but it's been governed by a Republican Party machine," he said, noting how such politics can breed trouble.
Gambling, organized crime and nepotism are among the factors leading to situations where kickbacks, bribes and contract schemes snare politicians looking to make personal gains off of public service, Simpson said.
The answers come in several forms, according to Simpson, Mixon and Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizens Advocacy Center. Voting for reform-based candidates, pushing for increased government transparency and improving the public's understanding of what actually is corruption were among the suggestions offered.
In response to a comment about the media's role in keeping tabs on local government, Simpson pointed out there are fewer reporters to do investigative digging these days. Pastika noted it is difficult for citizens to get the information they need because of that, especially when many people do not attend meetings or have no citizen's groups to turn to.
Simpson's top priority remains the creation of a suburban inspector general. The position would operate solely to monitor government entities in a way that local prosecutors and the attorney general are either "unable or unwilling to tackle the problem." The cost of an inspector general would be minimal if shared among several communities or at the county level.
"Suburban corruption will only be cured by a multi-faceted approach," Simpson added. "I'm not discouraged ... it's just that in the suburbs, there's never really been a discussion."
Monday's forum can be heard in its entirety by going to www.wbez.org/amplified.