Charles Flowers had it made. Elected in 2006 as Cook County regional school superintendent, all he had to do was keep his head down and keep the papers shuffling. No one, but no one, would have paid the least bit attention to Flowers, who was pulling down a six-figure salary en route to a pension-funded retirement.
Instead, he allegedly abused his modest office by hiring family, loaning money to employees, using district credit cards to take trips and eat fancy dinners. On Friday, he was hauled before a Cook County judge and stood there, mute, as the charges were read against him.
The office is up for re-election in 2010, yet no one – from any party – has filed to run for it. Whether, political parties will slate anyone for the November election is unclear. They’re most likely waiting to see what the Illinois General Assembly is going to do with a bill, currently in the rules committee of the Illinois House, that calls for the Cook County regional office to be abolished.
We’d like the General Assembly to get a move on, and do just that. The position of Cook County regional superintendent is unnecessary and a hopelessly political post. Its duties are to make sure schools comply with rules established by the state – teacher certification, life safety compliance and the like – and it is the Illinois State Board of Education that should be doing that, not some county functionary.
Back in the 1990s, the state had the same feeling about the office and abolished it. That lasted for about a year before Republicans resurrected it because they saw an opportunity to gain a political toehold, something they did successfully until Flowers was elected in 2006.
If the state felt the office was redundant back in the 1990s, we can’t imagine why they’d feel any different now, especially in light of the obvious potential for corruption in an office no one pays attention to until the wheels fall off completely.
While we applaud Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for going after Flowers and demanding accountability from an elected official, it’s also clear that Flowers is an easy target without a whole lot of political protection to shield him from the prying eyes of county prosecutors.
On the heels of this action, we’d like to see the state’s attorney turn her attention to the high-level, debilitating corruption elsewhere within county government. If Flowers was on the family and friends plan at the regional schools office, certainly he’s a piker compared to what’s going on in other agencies of county government.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to pick the low-hanging fruit than go head to head with political bosses who may be instrumental in your re-election, but if the state’s attorney is going to start taking a stand against official misconduct in Cook County, we’d like to see it take place at the highest levels, not just the lowest.