Time to send Flowers packing
Sunday, June 21, 2009
by SouthtownStar editorial staff
Reform of state government is an issue to which we are dedicated;
some might even say we're obsessed. The list of things to be fixed in
Illinois governance is long, depressing, and growing. Add this: We need
ways to remove tainted public officials from office.
It's a miracle we're not still stuck with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Thankfully the state Senate was able to drive him from office after
corruption charges. But, there are more poisoned flowers among
Illinois' vast fields of elected offices - or, in the latest case,
Flowers holds the elected position of Suburban Cook County Regional
Office of Education Superintendent. He has a record of financial abuse
and misconduct dating to his days as board president at west suburban
Maywood-Melrose Park District 89.
On Tuesday, the Cook County Board voted non-confidence in Flowers,
in the face of months of reporting by this newspaper, and a state audit
documenting his arrogant and profligate use of public funds. A criminal
investigation is under way.
This should be enough to at least suspend an official, if not boot
him entirely. But Illinois and Cook County have almost no way to remove
suspect office holders; we'd not be surprised to see some insisting on
being paid while behind bars.
Inevitably when the notion is raised of ousting people such as
Flowers, responses include "innocent until proven guilty." Let's put
that nonsense aside.
Innocence until guilt is proven is a vitally important premise in
America. But it has nothing to do with employment, elected or
otherwise. It solely means that before we take away a person's freedom,
their guilt must be proved in court, to the very high standard of
"beyond a reasonable doubt."
In the court of public opinion, or the determination of suitability for employment, this standard does not hold. Nor should it.
Anyone in a non-elected job facing the findings in the Flowers audit
would have been fired by now. One questionable expense account is all
it takes for most employees to lose their job. Elected officials who
love to compare themselves to employees when seeking raises or benefits
or perks barely acknowledge this when fighting to stay long after their
competence or honesty are shown wanting.
Flowers should go. And there should be means to make his going less torturous and time-consuming.
Situations such as this show why Illinois should re-think the number
of offices to which we elect people. As a starting point, electing
people to do public service is unassailable, and this element of
democracy has largely been brought to the world by America. It goes to
the roots of the revolution that gave birth to our great country. And
perhaps a return to those roots is in order.
"No taxation without representation" made sense 250 years ago, and
does still. No processing of teaching certificates without
representation? Maybe not. But that's the primary role of the office
That so many such arcane and narrow roles are elected offices is one
reason voter turnout for them is minimal. Who among us can truly
determine who is suited to such work? (We can determine it after audits
and investigations and solid journalism have exposed the lack of it,
but beforehand, no.)
Exploitive and abusive people such as Flowers move from one office
to another. After his record at the park district (another that
shouldn't require election) he was able to become education
And while we decry low turnouts for offices such as county board,
it's understandable why few vote for lesser offices. But that allows
the likes of Flowers to hold such offices through influence within a
political machine or among a few who want to enjoy the fruits of his
abuse (as Flowers has rained public money on friends and relatives, for
Illinois needs to set legislated standards below which elected
office holders can be ousted by higher levels of government, or are
automatically required to resign or at least be suspended. Or, despite
its own limitations and potential for abuse due to the same low
turnouts that bring us cads like Flowers, voters need to be able to
recall office holders, using petition to force votes that could expel
them from office.
Illinois became a national embarrassment in the months it took to
force Blagojevich out. But that happened at the speed of light compared
with what it usually takes to purge our governance of such people.
Maybe we need to have David Letterman mock Flowers until he just quits.