Monday, January 31, 2011

In push for Good Government, Better Government Association slams door on diversity and ethnic communities

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BGA probe of Pappas office results in unintended casualties

The Better Government Association (BGA) recently did an investigation into the operations of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas. During the probe, they cited several instances they felt were improper appropriations of taxpayer dollars. One involved a driver who was budgeted under a department service, and another who was serving as a maid for both the office and the treasurer.

Click here to read the story.

But in their enthusiasm to expose "government waste," the BGA has turned the clock back on hundreds of thousands of minorities in Cook County who for years have been left out of the Cook County government system. In addition to the above complaints, the BGA also targeted a woman named Pat Michalski who served as the director of ethnic affairs for Pappas office.

Michalski was being paid to organize events in which ethnics and minorities were brought in to the county government office and engage the system.

For years, ethnics have been shut out of government, an issue that the BGA doesn't address. In fact, very few governments address the fact that most ethnic Americans in Cook County are locked out of the government system and therefore have no chance to obtain jobs or contracts for their work in their communities.

County Offices have been closed to ethnics like Arabs and others for years. They are not the traditional minorities like African Americans, Hispanics and Asians who have had entre to local government. So what Michalski was doing was actually a service not only to the ethnic communities left out of the system, but to governments like Cook County.

The most deprecating claim made by the BGA study was to describe Michalski's responsibility as a "party planner." It's easy to call receptions with ethnic groups parties and wastes of government funds but they are not. They are essential to bringing true diversity to local government and bringing ethnic groups traditionally left out of the circle into the circle.

This is not a slam at the BGA. But the BGA's report and their failure to recognize the importance of governments bringing ethnics and more diversity into government has hurt many ethnic groups and many members of the public who are shut out of government.

A final issue is this. Why is it alright for Mayor Daley to manage ethnic outreach, but not Maria Pappas the County Treasurer? Michalski worked for the late Mayor Harold Washington and Mayor Daley, too. She did ethnic outreach at both places. No one ever questioned what she was doing. Does it have to do with the target of the investigations? If so, that is a better government tragedy.

She also worked for former Governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan doing ethnic outreach. No one ever questioned that work either.

Will we see similar stories on Daley's ethnic outreach, with claims that they are little more than political work? I don't think so.

It's really clear that the mainstream American news media cares little about the needs of ethnics in our society, ethnics who make up a large segment of our society. If the goal of the Better Government Association is to make government more accountable to the people, insuring that ALL the people are engaged would be a first step requirement.

-- Ray Hanania

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