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Ninety-eight Percent Comply with County Economic Interests Filing

Cook County, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Officials report gifts from tennis court time to church honoraria 

According to Cook County Clerk David Orr, 98 percent of public officials in Chicago and Cook Countywho were required to submit Statements of Economic Interests (SEI) online submitted a statement. This is the second year in which government officials and public employees have filed their statements online and this data has been searchable through the clerk’s public portal.

Nearly 200 public officials listed gifts from honoraria to baseball tickets in a summary released today of 2011 Statement of Economic Interests filings for Cook County.

"Voters and reporters alike can now browse every gift and every filing, whether they were given by a medical school, a church or a politician," said Orr. "You can satisfy your curiosity 24 hours a day and download any statement, plus charts listing gifts, late filers, multi-filers, filers by town or board."

The SEI search tools are available at cookcountyclerk.com, by clicking on the "ETHICS FILINGS" tab, then "STATEMENTS OF ECONOMIC INTEREST" and finally the PUBLIC PORTAL’S "ENTER" button.

"My office launched the SEI Online portal in 2011 so the media and public could easily access the statements of officials who oversee how our tax dollars are being spent," Orr said.

According to Orr, the portal allows browsers to see fiscal interests of elected officials on governing bodies from the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools to park, fire and pension boards. The 2011 list of filers contains over 22,000 officials from Chicago, Cook County and suburbanCook County, including:

  • Elected officials;
  • Members of governing boards or commissions;
  • Officials and employees who oversee grants and government spending, approve licenses, offer judicial rulings, issue government regulations, and have staffs of 20 or more.

SEI statements include eight questions asking filers to disclose potential conflicts in categories such as business ownerships, professional organization directorships, professional services rendered, capital and real estate gains, licensing and permit conflicts, income, gifts and honoraria.

Orr noted that the new online SEI tool has the potential to be a great advance for transparency around the state, not just in Cook County. "I’m proud that we have given our software to a number of other Illinois counties who recognize the advantages of our system."

However, like any tool, the SEI portal only works if it is used. "My office can post information, but it’s up to the public and the press to scrutinize it," said Orr. The last section of this release includes a chart with the answer distribution and text of each question.

HIGHLIGHTS

Some key highlights from this year’s summary include:

COMPLIANCE

  • Of the 22,619 officials who were required to file 22,153, or 98 percent, complied and filed statements.  
  • Over 22,000 unique filers submitted statements for 925 Units of Government (UOG). Of these there were approximately 1,000 multi-filers, 1,100 late filers and 500 individuals who have yet to file.
  • Under the leadership of former County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, Chicago Transit Authority publicized the legal requirement to file, and the possible penalty of dismissal. As a result, 100 percent of their 650 required filers submitted statements.
  • The Unit of Government with the most filers was the Chicago Public School district with 1,556 filers. Despite its size, CPS achieved a better filing percentage of 99.9 with only 1 of their filers failing to submit statements.
  • The second largest filing agency was the Cook County Sheriff’s office, with 830 filers, or just over half as many as CPS. The Sheriff’s office had a compliance rate of 98.4 percent.
  • The Town of Cicero was the city with the most required filers, at 192. The Village of Markhamhad fewest required filers, with 8.

MULTI-FILERS

  • There were approximately 1,000 individuals, or 5 percent of all filers, who submitted statements for more than one government agency.
  • Of the 100+ filers who filed for three or more agencies, most were suburban officials holding multiple positions or sitting on multiple local boards and commissions.
  • The only two public officials to file for five different units of governments were City Comptroller Amer Ahmad and City Treasurer Stephanie Neely who both filed for the Laborers, Municipal, Policemen and Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Funds.

GIFTS

The last item on the SEI questionnaire asks public officials to list gifts they have received in excess of $500 dollars individually or in combination.

  • Nearly 200 filers listed gifts including sporting tickets, transportation, honoraria from churches and universities, tennis court time, travel expenses, baby clothes, Christmas presents, stipends and one gift package from Oprah Winfrey.
    • 65 filers listed gifts in Honoraria.
    • 14 filers listed travel and lodging expenses.
    • 13 filers listed teaching fees, salaries and stipends.
    • 9 (of 106) filers from Stroger Hospital listed gifts.
    • 6 filers listed tickets from Friends of Michael Madigan.
    • 4 filers listed speaking fees and honoraria from churches.
  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel provided a thorough and colorful response which listed 19 gifts including a house stay from David Geffen, concert tickets from Paul McCartney, and transportation from Sam Zell.
  • Other filers with a substantial number of honoraria included a member of the Chicago Plan Commission (5 from churches), a CHA board member (10 from churches), a member of the Board of Health (9 from medical or educational institutions) and a Stroger Hospital staff member (11 from medical or educational institutions.)

NON-COMPLIANCE

All filers are notified via email or mail about the filing deadline, which was May 1, 2012 for activity during the 2011 calendar year.

Nearly 1,100 filers filed late, which meant they had to pay a $15 late filing fee. The list of late filers is available at cookcountyclerk.com.

Individuals who fail to file are sent a notice by certified mail. Their names are then turned over to State’s Attorney’s office, unless they work for Cook County, in which case their names are turned over to the Cook County Inspector General’s office.

  • 484 non-filers had their names submitted to the State’s Attorney office and 48 Cook Countyemployees had their names submitted to Cook County Inspector General’s office.
  • Of the Units of Governments with over 25 filers, the Village of Dolton had the highest percentage of non-filers with only 50 of the 68 officials (or 74 percent) who were required to file submitting their statements.
  • The Unit of Government with the most repeat non-filers was Dolton with 9.

CENSUS CORRELATIONS

Each local Unit of Government (UOG), whether a park board or a school district, determines who must file Statement of Economic Interests. Because different units have different decision-making structures and sizes, the number of filers is not uniform from place to place. For example, not every unit requires people in the same job classification to file.

This year, we compared the number of filers from units of government with census data on their size and median income. While there are many factors that might determine the number of filers (data on the size of each local government does not currently exist) the numbers suggest that different municipalities interpret who is required to file differently.

(See corresponding charts of suburban municipalities with the fewest filers, most filers and acomprehensive list of filers by suburban municipalities including population and median income.)

POTENTIAL REFORMS

Because there is not currently an office within the state government to help provide direction as to who does and does not need to file, UOGs have great latitude in interpreting the law. Likewise, individual filers are also left to interpret the questions within the statement for themselves.  

Of the 22,000 respondents, 87 percent gave an answer of not applicable, or N/A to each of the eightSEI questions. Since most filers respond "not applicable" to the overwhelming majority of questions, language may be unclear or too narrow to capture all potential conflicts. (See corresponding chart for a break down of substantive answers given and question language.)

The Clerk’s office has supported changing the wording of the questions to plain language rather than legal terminology. Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon has also proposed substantive changes to theSEI questions. While the online search function was a critical step, the questions should be revised to be clearer and to elicit a more detailed response.

Another step that needs to be taken is to remove the loophole that allows individuals not to file for the previous year if they are no longer working at the time the statements are due. The law should be amended so that if you serve in a position which falls under the SEI umbrella or requirements, even for a short time, you must file a statement.

 * Information is based on responses as of 7/9/2012. New filers report answers on a daily basis.  

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