Let's talk about the township

Opinion: Columns

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By Jack Crowe

There was a strange news report last week. Did you see it? Oak Park Township defrauded Pace, the suburban bus system, out of over a hundred thousand dollars by inflating the number of bus rides to senior citizens in the village taken in vans provided by Pace.

In fact, the township fabricated over 46,000 individual rides, which Pace reimbursed at $3 a pop. Pace fired the township from the reimbursement program and took back its three buses as a result.

To keep the program going, the township bought its own replacement buses (at an initial cost of $130,000) and Pace will no longer reimburse the township for the senior rides — who can blame them? — amounting to lost revenue to the township of at least $120,000 a year. Put another way — the township will be out around $750,000 over the next five years because it (twice) engaged in fraud.

Yes twice. Remarkably, the same fraud (overcharging for ghost bus rides) happened in 2012 by the same township employees!

Oak Parkers might engage in vigorous debate over this shade-throwing high-rise or that high school pool, but one thing every Oak Parker of every stripe expects is clean government. This fraud is the kind of dirty pool more commonly associated with Chicago government.

Here's a few questions taxpayers might want to ask:

Why did the employees do it? Were they on the take? Not exactly. According to Jeremiah Mabon, the transportation coordinator who instructed the bus drivers to falsify the forms, his supervisor Desiree Scully-Simpkins told him that "he needed to keep ridership up so the township employees could keep their jobs."

Apparently Mabon left the township and his supervisor retired last spring. Was she forced out on the QT?

What else? This all happened in 2016. Pace issued its report in February 2017. Why are we only hearing about this now?

Was the fraud disclosed publicly by township management with its own report, identifying corrective measures?

Has the township board been asleep? Has it gone on record identifying the management lapses that led to this fraud?

And here is the ultimate question: 

Given the mismanagement that has led to repeated fraud and the loss of hundreds of thousands in Pace reimbursements, isn't it time for us to discuss dissolving the township and putting its services under village government where it can be governed with a more watchful public eye?

Reader Comments

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: November 14th, 2017 7:49 AM

@James Kebinger welcome to the Land of Oz, where positive change generally occurs at a glacial pace and negative change often seems to happen at the speed of light (though the negative consequences may not be readily apparent to everybody right away)

James Kebinger from Oak Park  

Posted: November 13th, 2017 6:31 PM

As a newcomer to the community, it was the bus fraud that made me realize the township was a government entity separate from the village. In researching further, it appears only 17 townships in Illinois are coterminous with a single municipality. Evanston absorbed their township last year, so its worth at least considering the pros and cons of doing the same here.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2017 7:42 PM

Did anyone get jail time over these frauds? Are the people who did this getting paid pensions from all of us now?

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