The Park Ridge City Council is considering requiring criminal background checks for residents appointed to the City’s various boards and commissions.
The simple question to ask when considering this idea is: Are there any advantages to having board and commission members who have criminal records?
We don’t think so.
According to a story in the current edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge exploring background checks for board, commission volunteers,” Sept. 29), more than 100 residents serve on 17 boards and commissions by mayoral appointment.
That means that more than 100 residents are making significant decisions for our community while, unlike the mayor and the aldermen, not having been subjected to direct scrutiny by our community’s 24,000 or so registered voters – even if only 11,000 or so of those voters ever actually bother to show up and cast their votes. Instead, prospective board and commission appointees are vetted by the “Mayor’s Advisory Board” comprised of the chairs of the Council’s four standing committees, serving as the peoples’ representatives.
That vetting and selection process is all well and good by us. But it requires at least four conscientious aldermen who will make the effort to select, if not the “best of the best, sir!” (“MIB”), at least the tallest midgets in the circus – and not a collection of the usual suspects appointed primarily because they are somebody’s buddies who can be counted on to rubber-stamp whatever the mayor, aldermen and/or City bureaucrats, or some developers or business owners, want.
Having conscientious aldermen at all times, however, can’t be guaranteed.
Back when Ron Wietecha (1990-2003) and Howard Frimark (2005-2009) were mayor, a number of aldermen were so dependent on being told how to vote that they probably still bear faint traces of their respective mayor’s thumbprints on their backs or bellies. And we remember at least one alderman regularly taking his seat at The Horseshoe before tearing open his meeting packet for the first time – back in the days before transparency, when the packets were delivered on Saturdays and their contents weren’t available on-line.
So criminal background checks might also compensate, at least a little bit, for a lack of diligence by any phone-it-in aldermen.
Background checks would create reports that most likely would be public documents discoverable through FOIA requests, however, so we agree with new City Attorney Adam Simon that they should be required only for those applicants who actually are recommended to the mayor for appointment AND whom the mayor actually intends to appoint. [NOTE: Under the City Code, the mayor is free to reject such recommendations and, after two such rejections, he/she can appoint whomever he/she chooses.] That way, all those unsuccessful candidates will not have their privacy invaded unnecessarily.
But while such a process makes sense, it will not immunize the City from bad appointments who do stupid things because…well…they are stupid and/or ignorant individuals; or because they are “pleasers” for whom a pat on the back or a rub of the belly can suspend any semblance of good judgment. Nor will it shield the City from appointees without criminal records who – when given the opportunity – might decide to do somebody a “favor,” either gratuitously or on a quid pro quo basis.
Remember: Dixon, Illinois’ appointed treasurer/comptroller (and quarter horse breeder extraordinaire), Rita Crundwell, didn’t have a criminal record when she ripped off Dixon’s taxpayers for $53.7 million over 22 years.
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