Strap on your bibs: It's time for another serving of watchdog kibble.
This is a collection of mini-investigations, updates and morsels of information, many of them generated by readers' tips.
One costly meetingFrom Buffalo Grove-based Kildeer Countryside District 96's school board meeting Nov. 16 in Chicago:
$350: Meeting room rental
$1,638: 26 lunches
$988: 26 breakfasts
$392: 56 sodas
$72: Nine Snapple iced teas
$825.60: Hotel service charges
$4,281.12: Total cost
Source: Kildeer Countryside Dist. 96
This helping focuses on a Buffalo Grove-based school district's nearly $4,300 board meeting last month in Chicago, accolades for citizens fighting for better government transparency, updates on legislation inspired by previous investigations, and the latest on the internal power struggle at the Illinois Municipal League.
As it turns out, the $350 officials from Kildeer Countryside District 96 spent on the meeting room at Chicago's InterContinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue would be one of the cheapest expenditures for the school board's Nov. 16 meeting and strategic planning retreat.
Taxpayers living in the Buffalo Grove-based school district also covered $988 for 26 continental breakfasts, $1,638 for 26 "Gourmet Sandwich & Wrap" lunches, $72 for nine bottles of Snapple iced tea at $8 a pop and -- for nearly 2½ cases of soda that would have cost about $20 at a grocery store -- they spent $392. That's at a cost of $7 per soda, according to invoices obtained from the school district through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Additionally, the school district paid $826 in 24 percent "service" fees charged by the hotel.
All told, the meeting cost taxpayers $4,281.12, according to the invoices.
But that doesn't include any costs associated with the board's participation in the Illinois Association of School Board's annual meeting that took place over that same weekend. That information was not included in the district's response. District officials said expense reimbursement requests are due by the end of the fiscal year in June.
District 96 Superintendent Julie Schmidt defended the retreat, saying she had asked around and found the cost was "very similar" to what other districts spend for these types of retreats.
Schmidt said the District 96 board chooses to have its strategic planning session at this time of year during the state association's gathering because it gives the board and school leaders a chance to prioritize actions ahead of the budgeting process.
Board President Marc Tepper said the board holds the meeting away from the district because it forces all the participants to focus on the planning process since district officials and school principals can't get called away to handle any other issues that may arise.
"It's an ideal time to get together," he said. "We wouldn't do it if it wasn't beneficial for everyone that wanted to be involved in it."
Both Tepper and Schmidt acknowledged the meeting was open to the public, but in more than 10 years of holding the meeting at the conference, Schmidt said only once has a member of the public attended.
Tepper said board meetings are sparsely attended as it is and he's never heard anyone complain about the out-of-town retreat before.
"I can count on one hand the number of people that regularly attend our board meetings," he said.
The school board's next meeting is Jan. 8.
Michael Hennessy has been at odds with leaders of Wauconda Township for years. He's now being recognized by an area group devoted to helping people navigate governmental processes.
The Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center honored Hennessy, three other area residents and a local citizens' organization with its Citizen Initiative Award.
Most recently, Hennessy, with help from the Center, attempted to put a question on the ballot that would poll voters about whether township officials should chip in for their health care coverage. His attempts were thwarted by a series of parliamentary procedures at the township level.
Hennessy said the roadblocks have only strengthened his resolve.
"The township has labeled me as a rabble-rouser and someone who is anti-township government," he said, "but the fact of the matter is I'm pro-democracy and the township has tried to squelch the voice of the people and continues to do that."
Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, said it's important to recognize the efforts of people like Hennessy who work to "overcome barriers" on behalf of their neighbors.
"It's important because in every community and every town there are people who care about what's going on with their government entities and what we see is that rather than being praised, they are criticized as being opposed to progress and being anti-government," Pastika said. "Whether or not they won on their issue isn't as important as much as they cared enough to take a stand."
After raising concerns about a wrinkle in state election law that would have required many government agencies to remain open on Christmas Eve and potentially cost hundreds of thousands of dollars statewide through overtime or holiday pay, the state legislature voted to change the campaign filing deadline to alleviate the problem.
Gov. Pat Quinn ratified the law Dec. 3, making Dec. 26 the final day to file candidacy papers ahead of the April 9 election.
Other investigations that spawned legislation haven't been as successful.
Legislation introduced by Republican state Rep. Sidney Mathias of Buffalo Grove to eliminate the $6,500 annual stipends paid to almost every elected countywide officer throughout the state and potentially save taxpayers roughly $3.4 million never made it out of committee. Neither did a bill by Democratic state Rep. Carol Sente of Vernon Hills that would eliminate a similar $3,000 bonus for township assessors that has cost taxpayers statewide as much as $650,000 a year in the past.
"I will have to reintroduce it next session," Sente said. "My general feeling is this is a piece of legislation whose time has come. We have to be much more judicious in what we're spending our money on."
Sente, who beat Mathias in the November election when their districts were redrawn, said she would likely include Mathias' proposal as well.
"Why not roll it in together?" Sente pondered.
Did it happen?
Larry Frang is still the executive director of the Illinois Municipal League.
Despite posturing by some of the 49 board members of the statewide lobbying organization for municipalities who claimed they would seek to oust Frang, no vote was taken at the board's most recent quarterly meeting Dec. 8.
Led by several suburban mayors, some League board members had questioned Frang's management of the agency. Among the concerns were allegations of nepotism, awarding no-bid contracts and transfer of agency funds to a group insurance pool.
Instead, a board committee will conduct a review of Frang's performance and make a recommendation at a later date about his future.
"It's important that we did approve the performance review process because one has never been done before and that's critical," said Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley. "There was also discussion of returning the funds from the (insurance pool) back to the IML."