Cook County Clerk David Orr has announced the annual filings of Statements of Economic Interest by approximately 23,000 elected officials and public employees, while calling for a push toward greater accountability in the process by units of government and more transparency in the statements that are filed.
About 23,000 government employees and elected officials, across 942 local units of government, were required by state law to file their 2015 Statements of Economic Interest (SEI) with the Clerk’s office by May 2.
“The statements provide us with some interesting insights, but the answers give just a glimpse of the economic interests and influences on public officials and employees,” Orr said.
SEI statements include eight questions asking filers to disclose information 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 received.
Question #8, which asks filers to state gifts in excess of $500 over the past year, range from speaker’s honoraria and travel costs to conferences to sporting events tickets and gold coins.
Of those who answered this question:
44 reported gifts – including wedding and birthday gifts – from family members.
41 (22.8%) simply entered “cash,” “money,” or “gift.”
Only 25 (14%) actually listed the monetary value of their gift(s).
Another 13 listed gifts such as an assistant principal who received an unspecified gift of more than $500 in value from Walgreens, to $14,000 a village trustee received without additional details, to those who simply put “stock” as the listed gift.
Orr said the vague nature of some of these entries can thwart the purpose of the SEI filing.
“If a mayor or trustee or alderman states ‘transportation’ on their SEI, we don’t truly know if that means a friend provided cab fare so they could get across town, or if a donor or lobbyist paid for a trip to Europe for them. We don’t know this because it’s a weakness in the state law that I and others have urged lawmakers to fix,” Orr said.
While more than 95 percent of those required to file had done so by the May 1 deadline, by the end of the day on May 2 (the first business day after the deadline), 1,014 people had not submitted their statements to the clerk’s office.
These included: three village presidents or mayors, 17 village or township trustees, five suburban aldermen, and six other elected officials, such as village clerks, a township assessor and a village treasurer.
Those who did not file by the deadline were assessed a $15 late fee; if they have still not filed by May 31, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office will be notified of their failure to file.
Orr’s office has contacted those not in compliance and the units of government where they work multiple times since March to make sure that they were aware of the deadline and late fee.
In total, nearly 21,400 filed on time and some units of government have exemplary records when it comes to making sure all employees and office holders have complied with the filing requirement. These include Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Transit Authority, entities which, as in most previous filing periods, had no late or non-filers this year.
(Office of The Cook County Clerk)