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Bills to keep city officials from spending public money on conferences sit idle

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Friday, September 7, 2018  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach

Local Government (60)
After a number of investigations found hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money being spent on lavish trips by Illinois’ town officials, legislation that would put a stop to it sits idle in Springfield.

A series of public records requests by Illinois News Network in late 2017 found dozens of cities across the state spent public money on valet parking, high-end Chicago restaurants, and other perks in attending a statewide conference held annually by the Illinois Municipal League, a taxpayer-funded organization that provides educational and lobbying support to the state's cities and villages.

Quincy city officials billed taxpayers nearly $18,000 to attend. For Bourbonnais taxpayers, the cost was almost $11,000. In Kankakee, it was about $10,000.

When made public, the spending put a number of city officials on their heels.

Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore was questioned by local media about his city’s spending at the conference.

In a similar conference but for school district officials, District 87 in Bloomington spent $18,500 on the trip. Superintendent Barry Reilly later took responsibility for the spending in an interview with WJBC.

After learning of this spending of public money, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington, filed legislation that would either cap what officials could spend on these conferences or ban it altogether. He says the bills were met with pushback from powerful lobbyists and officials from more than 100 cities, villages and other local governments.

“Oh, there was pushback from everybody,” he said. “You have special interest lobbyists. You have all the municipalities. It’s just the tax-eaters.”

He said one of his bills had been watered down too much to really protect taxpayer money so he mothballed it in exchange for a bill he filed a couple weeks ago.

“It would’ve been a small step,” he said. “That would have kept me from passing a real reform that protects taxpayers.”  

Supporters of these conferences say they teach officials to be better public administrators at a price that’s affordable compared to the relative cost of rounding up all of that information elsewhere.

The 2018 Illinois Municipal League Conference begins Sept. 20. The keynote speaker this year is Bo Jackson.