by Brian Costin
Director of Government Reform
This time the alleged corruption comes from West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147. Retired superintendent, Alex Boyd, is accused of,“fraudulently cashing out about $350,000 worth of sick and vacation time and racking up $57,000 in unauthorized credit card charges.”
Also, board member Mable Chapman is accused of, "helping Boyd bilk the district while having family members hired by the district and taking family members on taxpayer-funded trips across the country.”
As is often the case, public corruption cases go hand in hand with a lack of website transparency. Previously we documented how a lack of transparency may have led to the corruption scandal in Dixon, IL, where the former comptroller is accused of stealing $53 million from local taxpayers.
The same seems to be true in District 147
After learning of the alleged corruption, the Illinois Policy Institute conducted an audit of the West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147’s website against our 10-Point Transparency Checklist. The total score was an embarrassingly low 26.2 out of a possible 100 points. An F grade.
|1. Elected & administrative officials||5 of 10 points|
|2. Meeting information||6.5 of 10 points|
|3. Public records||0 of 10 points|
|4. Budgets||10 of 10 points|
|5. Financial audits:||2 of 10 points|
|6. Expenditures: ||0 of 10 points|
|7. Salary & benefits: ||0.2 of 10 points|
|8. Contracts ||2.5 of 10 points|
|9. Lobbying||0 of 10 points|
|10. Taxes & fees||0 of 10 points|
|Total score||26.2 points out of 100, F grade|
Adopting the 10-Point Transparency Checklist can be an important tool in fighting public corruption. Here are some ways it could have helped prevent public corruption in District 147.
Currently, while the website posts information about the administrators, no such information appears for elected officials. It’s hard to hold elected officials accountable when you don’t know who they are or how to contact them.
Despite state laws requiring it, the district posts no information about how citizens can file FOIA requests for public information and who the FOIA officers are. FOIA is a crucial tool for citizens and the media to get information about local government spending and to expose government corruption. By failing to post FOIA information online, not only is School District 147 violating state law, it is creating an atmosphere that can intimidate citizens from asking questions about questionable government spending.
The website should include a checkbook register and credit card expenditures to all individuals and third-party vendors.
As the Sun-Times reported “One of the red flags in the audit was the $57,000 Boyd, of Richton Park, allegedly spent at Jewel-Osco and restaurants and on formal wear, women’s apparel and alcohol, among other items.”
From the Chicago Tribune: “Boyd... would also authorize payments for other board members to fly their families to seminars and for tickets to tours and concerts, Ahern said. He would also treat the board to expensive meals, Ahern said, adding that the ‘wining and dining’ was carried out so Boyd’s colleagues would look the other way as he engaged in wrongdoing.”
If the district posts its checkbook register and credit card expenditures, this type of questionable spending can be exposed to the public, allowing citizen watchdogs and the media to investigate, ask questions, and put and minimize abuse.
“Boyd, now 65, also sold back 574 days of vacation and sick days totaling $358,370 of payments that were never authorized by the District 147 board during his 11-year tenure," Assistant State’s Attorney Greg Ahern said.
If the board had a policy of posting full salary and benefit information on the website, these payouts would have been disclosed to local taxpayers and the media annually. Questions could have been asked, policies changed, and abuse stopped.
"Chapman, 58, of Harvey is accused of helping Boyd bilk the district while having family members hired by the district and taking family members on taxpayer-funded trips across the country." —Chicago Tribune
Currently, state law only requires administrator salaries and benefits to be posted online. All employees, including teachers and support staff, should be posted online to help discourage and expose nepotism hiring practices.
Public Act 96-0434 requires school districts to post all collective bargaining agreements on their websites. While not directly related to the corruption charges, any time a school district doesn’t follow state website transparency laws, it should be a bright red flag to citizens and the media that there is trouble elsewhere.
While hindsight is 20/20, transparency best practices could have discouraged the type of activities that public officials were charged with recently. Transparency makes it much easier for citizens, watchdogs, and the media to raise these issues much sooner.
If the people of Illinois want to turn the state’s reputation around, every local government entity should consider strongly using online transparency as a way to proactively fight public corruption. Futhermore, state standards need to be raised and habitual offenders like West-Harvey Dixmoor School District 147 should face harsh penalties for not complying with transparency laws.
image credit: Chicago Tribune