Editorial: Out with the old, in with the new

By Gus Bode

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the political apple doesn’t fall far from the tree of Illinois politics.

Conflicts of interest at SIU have been exposed by none other than the Chicago Tribune – one of the state’s largest and arguably most influential papers.

Stories have highlighted that Board of Trustees Chairman Roger Tedrick has indirectly benefited from millions of dollars worth of construction contracts SIU has awarded – contracts that he voted to approve. Tedrick helped nearly 40 companies on university contracts find insurance to cover the work they would be doing. Tedrick voted ‘yes’ on 20 of them – each of which weighed in at more than $250,000 – then found insurance for the successful bidder.

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Between 2002 and 2006, Tedrick donated $26,000 to the Blagojevich campaign. Tedrick was appointed to the BOT in February of 2004.

Tedrick’s track record at SIU starts off sterling. Right after being appointed, he consulted the university’s legal counsel about pre-existing relationships he had with businesses that did business with SIU.

After 2006, Tedrick caught on to Blagojevich’s games and stopped contributing.

The Daily Egyptian thinks there is no way Tedrick could have voted on any aspect of Saluki Way and acted ethically. Tedrick is entitled to make a living, and he has, building his business up to one of the largest of its kind in the downstate area. But he should not vote to approve something that clearly would do good things for his business. It is not uncommon for members of other governing agencies – such as the BOT of the University of Illinois, which is one of the foremost universities to which SIU aspires, and the Carbondale City Council – to abstain from a vote when a conflict of interest is present.

The contracts awarded to interests close to the university aren’t limited to construction contracts. The Southern Illinoisan reported Sunday that SIU President Glenn Poshard’s son Dennis Poshard and Dennis’s company have received contracts from the university and from organizations affiliated with the university for $138,000.

Dennis Poshard’s company received a contract from his friend and neighbor, College of Business Dean Dennis Cradit, to make a promotional video for the college. Cradit claims no one within the university could have made a quality production in a short amount of time. If the Daily Egyptian recalls, Barking Dawg Productions, which has produced many quality productions for the university on embarrassingly tiny budgets, happens to have Terry Clark, the chair of the marketing department in the College of Business, as its executive director.

While this is a small amount of money, we hate to see projects that could have gone to a great program through our own university go elsewhere.

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Connect SI, an organization that promotes economic development in southern Illinois through the expansion of broadband Internet, awarded a three-year, $100,000 contract to Dennis Poshard’s company, Arthur Agency. SIUC is a parent partner to Connect SI, but in this case, the only competitor was a New York-based company.

The Daily Egyptian definitely wants SIUC to keep its contracts local, especially when those local companies have more to offer the university and its affiliates. SIU is the political and economic powerhouse for this part of the state, and the area depends on it a lot. But the circle needs to expand. Contracts cannot only be awarded to people who have had contracts before or businesses owned by relatives. The wealth must be distributed more.

It may be easy for these under-handed deals to come to fruition. As our state song so eloquently articulates, Chicago is ‘thy great commercial tree, turning all the world to thee,’ and it isn’t often eyes are turned away from Springfield and Chicago’ toward southern Illinois, especially during the Blagojevich era.

President Poshard serves southern Illinois as a politician who understands the downstate area, but he shouldn’t be running the university like a patronage political machine. We want to make sure he keeps the southern region’s best interests at heart.

Students at SIUC have paid higher fees that indirectly benefitted a member of the BOT who voted to approve them. They pay a sales tax that pays for a football stadium they may not get to enjoy before they graduate and the city is forced to cut positions that would help students and community members alike have a nicer place to live.

Most of the students may not be native, but they care about Carbondale, too. They also want justice, and want their money to be well spent.

A stronger conflict-of-interest policy is necessary, although the Daily Egyptian can’t help but be concerned about loopholes that seem written into the new policy that the BOT will vote on in May – such as the specification of who counts as family. Following the exact language of the policy, it indicates it is perfectly fine for a BOT member to award a contract to an aunt, uncle, niece or nephew, just as long as they don’t live together.

It also requires that BOT members disclose conflicts of interest and then abstain from voting on topics that legal counsel determines are real conflicts.

Foolishly, the Daily Egyptian thought this was just common sense. Clearly, it must be written into policy for the university to abide by these mores.

But the two ‘key truths’ the conflict-of-interest policy is based on are sound. You can never be too transparent, and you can never be over-protected from conflict-of-interest in any form.

But the Daily Egyptian isn’t sure that a new policy is enough.

Now that SIU has Chicago’s attention, the Daily Egyptian appeals to Gov. Pat Quinn to stir up the university’s governing board. SIU is still rife with Blagojevich politics. There’s no telling how deep corruption could run at this university.

The Daily Egyptian hopes’ some new and different Quinn-appointed non-Blagojevich blood can serve as a strong step towards an SIU that isn’t corrupted.

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