Week in Review: Kids in danger, soaring gas prices, state police hiring & more


Pritzker excuses for DCFS failures are endangering children; HGOP calls for change in leadership at DCFS. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued the following statement as DCFS Director Marc Smith has been held in contempt of court for a shocking 11th time. The record 11th citation concerns the case of an 11-year-old girl who was physically abused while in DCFS care and is considered a danger to herself and others. She has spent months waiting for appropriate placement in a secure residential treatment center.
  “While Governor J.B. Pritzker continues to deflect blame for the failures of his administration at DCFS and refuses to accept responsibility for his agency’s inaction, children continue to suffer. How many kids have to be hurt and neglected by this vital agency before Pritzker will roll up his sleeves and actually do something about it? The Governor has had three and a half years to get this agency and his hand-picked director under control – he owns its ongoing failures. Today, I call on the Governor to remove Director Smith for the good of the children in Illinois who need a functioning DCFS to keep them safe.”

Many House Republicans joined Leader Durkin in calling for Marc Smith, the Director of the struggling Department of Children and Family Services, to step down. The call comes after a damning report from the Illinois Auditor Generalwas released on May 12 and yet another contempt of court charge was handed down to Director Smith this week.

“The recent audit is full of glaring failures at DCFS under Smith’s leadership in 2020,” Rep. Tom Weber said. “Most alarmingly, the audit says that DCFS failed to follow through and check on the welfare of kids when returning them to homes with known issues and then in most cases failed to follow up in providing services. There were 102 deaths of children known to DCFS that year. How many were lost in part because of the issues outlined by this audit? What will an audit reveal about 2021 when even more children, 122, died?”

Rep. Weber joined State Representative Steve Reick, State Representative Deanne Mazzochi, and State Representative Chris Bos in a press conference Tuesday calling for Pritzker to accept responsibility for what is happening at DCFS and to take action in removing Marc Smith if he does not step down.

“For a court to issue a contempt order against an agency head, the situation has to be dire,” Rep. Weber said. DCFS Director Smith has been held in contempt of court 11 times since January for failure to properly place specific children in DCFS’s care. In some cases, the child had been left languishing in a mental health hospital for months after medically necessary. Seven of the ten children remain improperly placed. “That’s a result of continued failed leadership.”

Since the department’s inception 58 years ago in 1964, there have been 29 different department directors. “We were reluctant to call for a resignation prior to today because we understand that stability at the top is important and institutional change is difficult. We were willing to give Smith and Pritzker the benefit of the doubt that improvements were happening. However, this audit and the continued contempt orders show a clear lack of progress.”

“Pritzker and Smith have been in charge for three years and have had three straight years of significant budget increases with nothing to show for it,” Rep. Weber finished by saying. “We can’t afford to give Smith any more chances, this is about protecting the lives of innocent children.”

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) joined the call for a change in leadership at DCFS, stating the following:

“We might feel differently if the Director had a strategic plan with timelines that the General Assembly was refusing to fund. Instead, we have seen the General Assembly dramatically increase funding for the department only for the most glaring issues to remain unaddressed.

“We wince at the idea of yet another change at DCFS, but holding onto failed leadership just so our governor doesn’t have to admit his choice didn’t work out is hurting children in Illinois. Protecting our kids, strengthening families in trauma, and ensuring our kids brought into care succeed should be more important than the politics playing out here. Our kids can’t wait until after an election, we need the governor to act now.”

Corn in ground passes 50% mark. The weekly crop report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows continued to note relative damp, muddy ground conditions. As of Sunday, May 15, however, 55% of the fields set to bear corn had been planted. Passing the fifty-percent mark was a spring milestone for Downstate Illinois, although this number lagged behind the 70% planting average that was the five-year norm for this midmonth date. Illinois corn pretty much has to be planted in May for the crop to ripen and produced a good crop by early fall.

For Illinois farmers, beans generally go in after the corn and as of May 15, 38% of the fields set to bear soybeans had been planted. This was a bit behind the 45% planting average for this Illinois crop during the five-year 2017-2021 period. The USDA “Crop Progress” report reflects conditions in Illinois fields through Sunday, May 15.

Illinois-based factory firm sold to new owner; significant employee bonuses. In the otherwise-sleepy town of Arthur, Illinois, this week brought a life-changing surprise for hundreds of workers at locally based garage-door maker, C.H.I. Overhead Doors.

C.H.I.‘s private equity owner, KKR, is selling the company to steel manufacturer Nucor in a $3 billion deal. The sale marks one of KKR’s largest returns in recent history, generating a massive windfall for both the firm and — uniquely — C.H.I.’s employees, from truck drivers to factory workers.

On average, hourly workers at C.H.I. will receive $175,000 in a payout, with the most-tenured earning more than $750,000 as a result of the sale.

Illinois gas prices jump into record highs. The essential day-to-day commodity, which now costs more than $4.00/gallon throughout the United States, is getting close to or above $5.00/gallon in many parts of Illinois. Market data, including gasoline “futures,” indicates that prices could further increase as the summer driving season approaches. Gasoline futures are the derivative prices of shipments of gasoline dated for future delivery to gas pumps throughout the United States, and they track what the price of motor fuel is likely to be in June, July, and future months.

In Illinois, most motor fuel is a blend of 90% gasoline and 10% corn-based ethanol. With the current war in Ukraine and high prices for farm crops worldwide, corn-based ethanol does not offer any potential for motor fuel price relief. Some Illinoisans have motor vehicles that are partly fueled or wholly fueled by electricity, but electricity prices are also sharply higher from one year ago. Illinois’ tax structure, which includes taxes imposed on motor fuel by the State, by counties, by municipalities, and by multi-county groups that run public transportation systems, means that Illinois motor fuel prices can be expected to be ranked #41-to-50 among the 50 states. Cheaper gas can be found in at least forty U.S. states, although motor fuel is not cheap anywhere right now.

Earlier this year, House Republicans filed legislation to freeze the State sales tax on Illinois motor fuel. Under current law whenever the price of gasoline goes up, the sales tax (a percentage of the total sales price) goes up as well. House Republican Rep. Mark Batinick was the lead sponsor of HB 5723, which would have frozen the State sales tax on motor fuel at 18 cents per gallon. Unfortunately, the House Democratic majority refused to release Batinick’s bill from the House Rules Committee, preventing any debate or vote on this important legislation.

Illinois nuclear power plants credited with reducing rate of increase in many Illinoisans’ electric bills. A network of nuclear reactors help generate power for Illinois. Most of the reactors are located in northern Illinois. They were built by Commonwealth Edison, the onetime integrated electricity supplier. When the ComEd plants were sold to new owner Constellation Energy, a feature of newly-enacted State law required the owner to calculate part of the gap enjoyed by the owner on the difference between the regulatory-recoverable electricity price of the reactor and the overall U.S. market price of electricity, and to pass this calculated price slice on to customers.

With U.S. grid electric prices soaring in summer 2022, this price-gap law swung into effect. Commonwealth Edison has projected that it will post credits of 3.087 cents per kilowatt hour starting on June 1, 2022, for the year ending on May 31, 2023. This price slice will reduce affected ComEd customers’ electric bills by an average of $19.71 per month, or $237 per year. Of course, many of these customers will be paying overall higher utility bills anyway, but their electric bills will be lower than they would otherwise have been. Unfortunately, the same savings cannot be provided to customers of electricity in non-ComEd regions of Illinois, such as the regions served by the St. Louis-based Ameren. Overall soaring prices of electricity at the grid level are getting passed through to a wide variety of customers throughout the United States.

Amid statewide police shortage, Illinois State Police pushes for lateral recruits. Current State Police practice requires cadet police officers to undergo lengthy boot camp training, and to accept assignment to a location within Illinois chosen by headquarters. The standard Illinois State Police academy training period is 26 weeks, a lengthy time period that is required because of the demanding and hazardous nature of public service first-responder police work. The State Police’s police training academy is located in Springfield.

The Illinois State Police recognizes that police officers from other jurisdictions already possess vital elements of first-responder work experience. The new ISP Lateral Entry Training Program creates an alternative entry platform into the State Police for recruits with specified levels of prior experience. Program recruits will be assigned to an alternative 14-week police academy program. Within this alternative program, five weeks will be attended in person and the other 9 weeks can be attended while on district duty. In addition, qualified Lateral Entry troopers will be granted the right to select the district in which they wish to work. The entrants will report to their chosen districts after initial training, and will attend most of their final nine weeks of Lateral Entry retraining at the district level.

Lateral Entry Training applicants are required to already be certified police officers, have graduated from an accredited law enforcement academy, have at least two years of full-time police experience, and possess a specified level of DWI/DUI field sobriety testing certification. The State Police states that they are seeking to recruit at least 300 new troopers during the remaining months of calendar year 2022.

Museum of Ice Cream to open in Chicago’s Tribune Tower. The iconic North Michigan Avenue building, the former home of Chicago’s largest newspaper, has changed hands in redevelopment. The Shops at Tribune Tower has set aside 13,500 square feet for the new Museum of Ice Cream, with an opening date set for July 16. The museum will offer child-centered experiences that will include a shallow “sprinkle pool” and an indoor mini-golf course. The Chicago museum will follow a standard model that has already opened in New York City, Austin, and in the Asian nation of Singapore.