Investigative reporters sometimes refer to the process as gathering string: You start with a scrap of information, then another and you keep adding over time until you finally have a whole ball of string, or rather, as much truth as you can tell.
Our reporters started investigating state Sen. James Clayborne’s friend, Vonetta Harris, and the fact that she was appointed to an $85,500 job on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board despite filing bankruptcy, owing $306,000 in student loans and $11,000 in federal income taxes. After the Harris story reporters learned of another parole board member with a bankruptcy, then another, then another.
The issue was whether people with shaky finances should be making decisions about releasing potentially dangerous convicts. The four financially challenged members’ judgment, susceptibility to bribes and truthfulness were all in question.
A lot of excuses, financial double-talk and investigation ensued, but on Friday Gov. Bruce Rauner dumped parole board member Eric E. Gregg and announced former board chairman Adam P. Monreal would resign in two weeks.
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This case is a reminder that there are too few objective checks and balances on government. Since colonial times news reporters have been dubbed the fourth estate, an essential part of government because their independent voices keep government honest.
Given the opportunity, those in power will take short cuts, take advantage of taxpayers and take care of their own. That’s only a good thing if you are an insider.
Most of us are not.