Front Page Coverage of McHenry County Parades

The article on the Tribune's web site features a photo of Sheriff Keith Nygren.

Who would have ever thought that how public officials parade in McHenry County would become big news?

The same Chicago Tribune reporter, Robert McCoppen, who wrote the article on the fight between the forces grouped behind Sheriff Keith Nygren and those behind State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi for Sunday’s Tribune has written another.

No picture appears in the print edition of the parade article. The opposite was the case in Sunday's article about the fight within the McHenry County Republican Party. There was a photo of Judge Gordon Graham greeting Sheriff Keith Nygren at his fund raiser the previous Thursday night in the paper, but nothing on the web site.

This time about parades and the use of public employees who receive compensation, either in the form of compensatory time off or overtime.

In 2008, I got this photo of Lou Bianchi's convertible as it came up Dole Avenue toward the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake.

The article’s starting point is the count in Bianchi’s indictment by the Special Prosecutor Henry Tonigan-led grand jury.

McHenry County State's Attorney Lou Bianchi and his wife Jean rode in a convertible in 2008.

Bianchi Parade Indictment Count. Click to enlage.

One count of the indictment was for allowing employees who participated to take one and a half times as much time off from work “for marking in public parades during 2006 and for participating in community expositions fro 2006 through 2010…”

One of the State's Attorney's entries in Crystal Lake's 2008 4th of July Parade. Bianchi was up for re-election.

The indictment did note that “both legitimate community awareness  and political campaign purposes were undertaken by the participants.”

Hence, the premise of the article, while serving as a public official, where does one draw the line between doing one’s job and politicking?   Can one use public resources to advance one’s political career in parades?

Those ares such good questions.

Sheriff Keith Nygren in the Algonquin Founders Day Parade.

Nygren is brought into the article when he “openly defends the practice, insisting it’s perfectly legal because it’s not for campaign purposes,” according to the article.

He keys his defense on the fact that he was not saying, “Vote for me.”  His people didn’t pass out any election material.

After the Bianchi indictment, Sheriff Nygren, his department's and the McHenry County Conservation District's motorcycles and other Sheriff's Department vehicles came first. Later in the parade, people carrying Nygren campaign signs appeared for the first time this year.

Indeed, in the parades I have attended, Nygren did have anyone handing out anything until the Lake in the Hills and Johnsburg parades, after Bianchi was indicted.

The "political" part of the Keith Nygren contingent Lake in the Hills parade.

In those, avid supporter Brent Smith marshaled some people to hand out election material.  (It seemed to have been left over from the primary election.)  The two contingents were separated.

Nygren’s defense is similar to the one that school districts have used when they put out information about school tax hike and bond referendums that stops just short of using the words, “Vote Yes.”

That has kept school officials out of trouble so far in all but Lake County, where State’s Attorney Mike Waller got so upset about one taxpayer-financed pro-referendum piece that he put out a memo advising school districts that he wouldn’t let them off the hook next time around.

In September of 2007, after filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s office about Bianchi’s payment for parade candy out of his office budget, then McHenry County Republican County Chairman and McHenry County Treasurer Bill LeFew told the Northwest Herald,

“It’s purely political.  There’s no way around it.”

So there is a disagreement among McHenry County’s officials.

The Tribune reporter picks out a telling sentence from Bianchi’s statement after his indictment:

“Under this same scrutiny, most public officials in America could be indicted by an out-of-control special prosecution.”

But the rest of Bianchi’s statement is also of significance, because it lays out the political background he says is behind the indictment.

In Cook County those driving sheriff’s vehicles get comp time, the article says.

DuPage County State’s Attorney and Sheriff use only volunteers.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and novelist Scott Turow, who chaired Governor Pat Quinn’s Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, whose recommendations were largely ignored even by Quinn told the Tribune:

“This is a really bright line. There’s no campaigning on state property or time or with state money.”

Turow, of course, has never had the experience of being a county or state elected official.

= = = = =
It seems to me that the definition of “campaigning” is not as clear as he thinks.

Let me give you an example: you are running for office and a reporter gives you a call about a charge that your opponent has made. The reporter has called you on your office number.

Do you say, “Just a minute, I’ll have to walk outside and call you back on my cell phone?”

Or just answer the question and get back to work on the government work you were doing when interrupted.

I am quite interested in reader responses on this question, because I don’t believe the line is as distinct, that is, recognizable, as Turow does.
= = = = =
But, back to the article. What you see below is the jump page headline on the Tribune’s web site:

Turow says paying employees to hand out campaign literature is clearly illegal. They are not charged with doing that, as I read the indictment.  Indeed, Bianchi was not even on the ballot in 2006, the year parades are referenced in the indictment.  (See that section of the indictment above.)

Nygren’s GOP primary opponent is quoted in the article as saying Bianchi’s indictment strengthens his legal action requesting a special prosecutor to probe Nygren’s use of county resources to campaign for office.

Seipler reprises what he has published on his blog, McHenry County Sheriff’s Department Exposed.  He has pointed out there that Illinois State Board of Elections records show the purchase of candy and gasoline for parades.

Seated to the left of Sheriff Keith Nygren, Marge Nygren was throwing candy at Johnsburg's parade.

Not to mention Nygren’s use of privately owned cars he and his wife from  which he and his wife wave and throw candy at parades.

Seipler summed up his position to the Tribune:

“It’s absurd to say he’s not participating in a political activity.”

Terry Eck

As would be expected, Nygren’s fall opponents, Democrat Mike Mahon and Green Party candidate Gus Philpott, agree with Seipler.

The article ends with some new information from Bianchi attorney Terry Eck.  He said both Nyrgen and McHenry County Associate Judge Gordon Graham, who is running for a full 22nd Judicial Circuit judgeship against Independent Sally Wiggins, had sent campaign solicitations to Bianchi at the State’s Attorney’s Office.  Nygren was listed first on Graham’s fund raising letter.


Front Page Coverage of McHenry County Parades — 6 Comments

  1. It is always and forever, in the legal world, about definition of terms.

    If it is left open to interpretation then there is both room for abuse and room for courtroom antics.

    When the State’s Attorney doesn’t know the line to hold to protect himself from prosecution then either he is a fool or he believes the line is not so “bright”.

    Even the quote above leaves an amazing amount of room to interpret.

    “This is a really bright line. There’s no campaigning on state property or time or with state money.”

    Define campaigning.

    Define State property.

    Define State time.

    Define State money.

    These are all functions best done by the legislators who have a vested interest in leaving this line a bit fuzzy, best done by lawyers who make money arguing over the line, best done by judges who, in some cases, are elected themselves and finally interpreted at the local level by the State’s Attorney who obviously cannot even adequately interpret the law to protect himself, let alone others.

    To expect the current crop of politicians to somehow navigate the murky waters of this law any better than past generations(this is absolutely not a new argument) is silly.

    For political opponents to use this law, or any other, against one another solely for political gain and expect it to land with a savvy and educated populace is ludicrous.

    At the end of the day it is NEVER government and its laws which is the salvation of the people.

    It is the good sense of the people themselves which saves them from ultimate ruin.

    Let us rise up and tell the little monkeys to stop slinging poo at one another.

    The only thing it does is get the area all yucky and we live in this area.

  2. All the people that work for the SA are not the SA and do may not do what they should when they have personal agendas.

  3. Preist, excellent points.

    How about we rise up amd demand that our politicans and elected leaders follw the law, place the public interest first and not lie to us.

    Setting all the politics aside, why did Lou lie about doing political work in his government office?

    I guess he figures us little folk don’t need to know.

    If Lou broke the law, they need to sling a lot more monkey poo at him!

  4. It is time for the voters to say enough is enough and that we are ready to hold our politicians accountable for their actions.

    I can attest to walking many a parade for Sally Wiggins, Independent Candidate for Judge, and I have never been paid anything beyond a sincere thank you and a smile.

    If you don’t like the way some politicians are playing the game, don’t let them continue to play it.

  5. whose car is it that Bianchi is riding in

    Graham is using the same car this year

    makes one say hmmmm

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