Listen to this article

With a pack of federal bloodhounds running around with their noses to the ground in Springfield, Chicago and Cook County, it’s a pretty sure bet that elected officials, public officials and longtime insiders — maybe a whole lot of them — will end up in the slammer.

That will change the faces occupying some governmental positions in Illinois.

But what are the prospects that these corruption investigations will result in a change in the form of some governments in the state?

Reform doesn’t come easy in the city of Chicago and/or the Land of Lincoln.

Anyone remember famously corrupt, controversial and charismatic Chicago Alderman Mathias “Paddy” Bauler’s famous 1955 declaration?

Exultant over Mayor Richard J. Daley’s election to his first term as mayor, Bauler joyfully danced a jig in the bar he ran and declared “Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet.”

That was a little more public candor than Daley could stand. Legend has it that Daley “banned Bauler from attending public functions for a time shortly after the quote was published.”

But Bauler was right then, and he’s been right ever since.

Scandals have come and gone, and precious little has been done to establish effective safeguards that keep Illinois’ political class from feeding at the public trough.

Nonetheless, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown suggests the latest investigations in Cook County may — just may — result in shedding some light on the hidden lairs from which scandal-ridden public officials operate.

“... finally, once and for all, how about we face facts and get rid of township government in Cook County, once and for all?” Brown writes.

Township government exists in virtually all of Illinois’ 102 counties.

They are throwbacks to 100 years ago when much of the state was rural, transportation was limited and it was a challenge for those in the hinterlands to travel to the nearest town or the county seat.

Much has changed since then, but township governments remain.

There are more than 1,400 townships in Illinois. Champaign County has 30 of them.

Invisible levels of government to most taxpayers, they levy property taxes and provide safe political havens for hundreds of elected officials and their employees.

There’s been much talk of eliminating and/or consolidating township governments, having their limited duties taken over by city and county governments.

Legislators, however, have been reluctant to move on that issue because they fear the political blow-back from township officials, who often are important players in local politics.

The General Assembly, however, recently passed a bill that allows McHenry County to experiment with township elimination and/or consolidation.

It will be interesting to see what voters do when they are offered an opportunity to reduce the size and cost of their local governments.

Brown is counting on a different kind of reaction from the body politic — public outrage.

“As for township government, we can have a more detailed discussion about that in the future, but several of the players in this current federal investigation have derived their power from this most obscure form of suburban government,” he writes.

“We don’t need township government in Cook County.

It serves mostly to provide fiefdoms to Democratic officials.

Those politicians don’t want to give up those fiefdoms any more than they’ll want to disclose their outside income.”

And speaking of outside income, get a load of this.

The feds are conducting multiple investigations of state legislators (Sens. Martin Sandoval and Thomas Cullerton) and local public officials too numerous to name here.

One of the things they’re investigating is the sale by connected politicos of red-light traffic cameras to local communities.

In addition to their public duties, these officials also work as “sales consultants” for a firm that sells Big Brother devices used to generate traffic-ticket income for local communities.

One public official told The Sun-Times that he has contracts with communities guaranteeing him a “small percentage” of the fine money for each red-light traffic citation issued.

In other words, the connected politico shares in what is supposed to be public money derived from fines levied on motorists.

Red-light cameras have always been nothing more than revenue-generating devices that have little or nothing to do with public safety.

Now it turns out they also play an important role in enriching the insiders who use their political connections to sell the cameras to government bodies.

It’s hard to believe. But it turns out that a program already reeking of financial self-interest on the part of some municipal governments is even worse than initially thought.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.