The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Friday's Chicago Sun-Times featured an interesting column by Carol Marin on corruption in the town of Cicero, Ill., the hometown of legendary gangster Al Capone. Apparently, despite the conviction a couple of years back of town president Betty Loren-Maltese and the $1.7 million in damages awarded to the town's former police chief David Niebur, who at one time was Joplin police chief, the corruption in Cicero continues to thrive.
After Ms. Loren-Maltese was sent to prison in 2002, Ramiro Gonzalez was appointed as her successor and since then, according to Ms. Marin's column, he has appointed 18 relatives to city jobs.
Three people filed to run against Gonzalez this year. The Cicero Good Government Group, an ironically named organization led by a man named Ed Vrdolyak, who may be the big boss in Cicero, challenged the filing petitions of the three. Two of Gonzalez' challengers were removed from the ballot. Don't cry for Cicero however. Gonzalez still has one man opposing him. The only problem is Larry Dominick, the last remaining challenger, donated $2,640 to the Cicero Good Government Group over the past five years.
Not surprisingly, some Cicero residents are skeptical of his claim that he wants to put that group out of power, according to the Sun-Times column.
David Niebur was supposed to be the man to bring law and order to Al Capone's hometown, but he quickly discovered he was out of his league. When he tried to bring reform to the city, he quickly ran afoul of Ms. Loren-Maltese and was fired. By this time, realizing the extent of the corruption in Cicero, Niebur had gone to the FBI and started the investigation that led to Ms. Loren-Maltese's ouster.
Niebur served as police chief in the Illinois town from December 1997 through April 1998. He was hired to clean up a corrupt town, but when he left he feared for his life, according to a Chicago Tribune article. "For the first time in my life, I believe there are a number of people who would like to see me assassinated. In my career, I have had people shoot at me and I have killed people. But I have never been so scared as I am this week here. This is big-time crime. This is big-time corruption."
Niebur told federal officials and reporters that he had uncovered a seething cesspool of corruption in Cicero including police officers making thousands of dollars a years by shaking down illegal immigrants, making false arrests in order to set up bribes, letting solvable murders go for years without making arrests and the hiring of numerous police officers with long criminal records.
The biggest scandal involved a towing operation in which many city residents, especially minorities were having their cars towed for no apparent reason then having to pay exorbitant prices to get them back. Niebur and his deputy superintendent of police Phillip Bues were fired by the Cicero City Council and filed a multi-county federal civil rights lawsuit against the city officials in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Named as defendants in the lawsuit were Town President Betty Loren-Maltese, Town Counsel Merrick Scott Rayle, the Cicero Police Board and individual police commissioners.
Niebur issued a statement the day the lawsuit was filed. "I accepted the position of police superintendent for the Town of Cicero because I wanted to make a difference. It was well known that the police department was in turmoil and 15 to 20 years behind the times in terms of management and operations. I took the position with the intention of reforming the police department and making the residents of Cicero proud of their police officers. I thought that was the reason I was hired. "During the four months I was police superintendent, I did initiate many positive changes in the department. The town president boasted about my job performance and stated that I had turned the morale of the department around in a short time. I was doing the job for which I was hired. "It was not until I began investigating Ram towing and the irregularities in the town's towing practices that I was no longer considered a reformer. I was suspended by the town president from my position as police superintendent in retribution for my cooperation with the FBI and the state police in their investigations of the town's towing practices and alleged corruption. We are filing this lawsuit today because we are being wrongfully punished for exercising our rights under the law.
"However, this lawsuit today is not just about two police executives wrongfully punished for exposing corruption and wrongdoing within government. This action is needed to let all police officers nationwide know that they cannot be fired and maliciously slandered because they did what was right. It will also provide assurance to police executives to do what is necessary in their towns, cities and counties, even when their positions are threatened. For me, the decision to report apparent wrongdoing was the only choice available and one made without hesitation. It is my sincere desire for all law enforcement officers facing a similar situation to be confident to make the same decision."
A federal jury found in Niebur's favor and he was awarded $1.7 million. Ms. Maltese, according to The Chicago Tribune, called Niebur "unprofessional" and said she appealed the jury's ruling. In addition to the $1.7 million penalty assessed against the city, the jury awarded Niebur and another officer an additional $100,000 in punitive damages from Ms. Loren-Maltese. Niebur was featured in an article in the Saturday, May 26, 2001, New York Times. He told a Times reporter, "The hell hopefully is over now. It's just like I had just taken the most wonderful hot shower and whirlpool bath. It was just a cleansing effect. It was three years of hell."
The last time I heard, Niebur had been unsuccessful in his efforts to get back into lawsuit, most prominently in this area in a candidacy for Jasper County sheriff, where he lost to incumbent Bill Pierce (who later resigned when he ran into his own problems with corruption). During that candidacy, the local media made much of Niebur's problems in Cicero and his time as Joplin police chief, but didn't look any further into Niebur's past. At that time, I was writing for the short-lived first version of The Turner Report, a regular website that normally drew about five to 10 visitors a day from summer 2000 to early in 2002 and was updated every week or two.
On that website, I wrote:
The controversy Niebur ran into in Cicero was not the first that had enveloped the veteran police officer. As reported in an earlier edition of The Turner Report, Niebur had run into controversy earlier during his brief stint in Cicero. According to a March 13, 1998, Associated Press article, Niebur supported a deal in which Cicero city officials agreed to pay $10,000 to print and distribute Ku Klux Klan literature in exchange for the Klan agreeing not to stage a rally in the city.
"I guess it could be deemed extortion in one sense," Niebur said in the AP article, "but I don't see it that way. I think this is really a sensible solution under the circumstances." The deal was struck by city officials to prevent violence. In the article, Niebur said security fences alone would have cost approximately $20,000 and the town would have had to foot the bill for state troopers for added security.
A Niebur deal with the Ku Klux Klan would not have surprised people who knew him from his days with Minnesota police departments. According to an article in the May 1, 1998, Chicago Tribune, Niebur was one of several officers named in a federal civil rights lawsuit in the 1960s in a small Minnesota town where he worked as a police supervisor. A jury found the officers and the department had harassed a black driver, the article said.
When he was with the Minneapolis, Minn., Police Department, he had a running battle with the Minneapolis Urban League over arrest rates of African-Americans, the article said. "He had a reputation for being a racist for stopping a lot of black people on the road," former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza told The Tribune. Bouza, however, did not agree with that assessment.
"I looked at the racism issue and didn't see any racism in his actions," he told The Tribune. Bouza, in fact, promoted Niebur to head of internal affairs, according to an article in the Jan 12, 1989, Minnesota Daily, despite a record that included "42 investigations into charges of brutality, harassment and assault, primarily involving minorities," the article said. The article noted that there was not enough evidence to prove wrongdoing in almost all of the charges. The Chicago Tribune article placed the number of investigations at 48 and said charges against Niebur were sustained in eight of them.
Shortly after Bouza appointed Niebur head of internal affairs, Urban League President Gleason Glover sent Bouza a letter complaining about Niebur's record for dealing with minorities. Niebur was removed from the position shortly after Bouza was replaced by John Laux as police chief. "His (Niebur's) appointment was inappropriate in the first place," Urban League Vice President Gary Sudduth told The Minnesota Daily. "I think Chief Laux realized that if there was going to be honest rebuilding of relations with the minority community, Niebur would be a glitch in that process."
Though Niebur had asked the minority community in Minneapolis to give him a chance during an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune shortly after he was appointed head of internal affairs, any chance of receiving one might have ended five years earlier when he was involved in the shooting death of an unarmed black man named Sal Saran Scott, according to the article in The Minnesota Daily. Niebur also didn't help his cause when he told the Star-Tribune about his activities when he was a traffic control officer. According to the article, "He said that he unlawfully searched cars without probable cause and issued a record number of citations in one year, almost 6,000. Minority leaders complained that a disproportionate number of those citations was given to minorities. "I stopped a lot of blacks," Niebur told the Star-Tribune, "but I stopped a lot of whites. I stopped everybody, anyone that moved."
(As a last note, though I can't recall it ever being mentioned in any area newspaper, or even in the Chicago newspapers, Ms. Loren-Maltese's appeal of the award to Niebur was rejected by a federal appellate judge in 2003.
Major decisions are going to be made in this year's General Assembly that will affect the education of every child in this area of Missouri. This is the year in which the legislators are going to try to fix the Foundation formula, through which Missouri elementary and secondary schools are funded.
Our local legislators, at least on the House side, will be sitting this one out. While they have managed to get themselves named to every business-related committee there is, none of our area Republican legislators (there are no area Democratic legislators) Ron Richard, Steve Hunter, Marilyn Ruestman, Bryan Stevenson, Kevin Wilson, and Ed Emery, are serving on any education-related committee, with the exception of Wilson, who is on the Appropriations-Education Committee.
That means, while they will be able to represent this area by casting votes on whatever education bill is proposed, they will have no role in shaping that legislation in a way that would best serve their constituents.
These are the committees on which our local legislators will be serving, in addition to the one mentioned above:
Appropriations, Health, Mental Health, and Social Services- Stevenson
Financial Institutions- Hunter, Richard
Insurance Policy- Wilson, vice chairman
Job Creation and Economic Development- Richard, chairman; Emery
Local Government- Emery
Professional Registration and Licensing- Ruestman
Senior Citizen Advocacy- Ruestman, vice chairman; Wilson
Small Business- Wilson
Utilities- Emery, vice chairman
Ways and Means- Stevenson, vice chairman; Hunter
Workplace Development and Workplace Safety- Hunter, chairman
No area legislator is serving on either the Education Committee or on the Higher Education Committee, which deals with colleges and universities. Of course, there are a lot more committees that deal with various legislation that affects businesses, but this area of southwest Missouri has traditionally sent people to Jefferson City, who have voted in lockstep with what the business interests want, many times at the expense of a majority of their constituents. Of course, it is the business interests that make the donations to finance our legislators' re-election campaigns.
This week's search engine results, as always, show people find their way to The Turner Report looking for information on a variety of subjects.
The leader for the past several weeks, former KODE anchor Malorie Maddox, has been replaced atop the search results by Nexstar Broadcasting, followed by a tie between the Diamond R-4 School District, and Newton Learning. Also on the search list were terms as diverse as The Weather Channel, Cloyd Boyer of Alba, Audie Murphy, Edward Meerwald, and Miss Maddox.