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Ethics loophole needs to be closed
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Published: 9/27/2008 9:02 PM

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We don't begrudge Brian McPartlin, especially in these troubling economic times, wanting to move into a higher paying job.

At least we assume it's higher paying than the $189,000 he was making as the executive director of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority in Downers Grove. In announcing his intentions, McPartlin said, "I've got be able to effectively support my family."

OK. But what we do object to is McPartlin moving to an employer who has won millions of dollars worth of work from the same state agency that he headed.

McPartlin announced last week that he will be leaving the tollway authority in late October to become vice president of McDonough Associates, an engineering and architectural firm. Between 2002 and 2008, the tollway awarded McDonough Associates $39 million in contracts. Most of it came between 2004 and 2008 while McPartlin worked at the tollway agency.

Predictably, McPartlin sees no problem in taking on this new job. The idea that this is a conflict or even a perceived conflict that would contribute to a lack of trust of our public officials seems to escape him. He also misses the irony that he believes tolls should be increased.

"We live in Illinois. People have skepticism all the time about things. They criticize all the time," he said. "The reality is I'm moving on with my career."

The reality is that he's another example of why ethics laws in Illinois are needed and why current laws need to be tightened up.

In this instance, the ethics laws in Illinois do prohibit such a move in the first year of leaving state employment. But, of course, there is a loophole. And just like Timothy Martin, a former Illinois Department of Transportation chief who left to go work for a company that received $50 million in contracts from his department, McPartlin is confident he will be able to walk right though that loophole when the state ethics board reviews his case in a few weeks.

"I followed all the requirements as laid out by state law, so I'm comfortable with that," he said.

We're not. Not in the least. And, so, it's a wake-up call to the Legislature that this loophole, where the state ethics board is allowed to give waivers, needs to be closed. The commission chairman says the standard to get the wavier is low. Sounds like a good place to start.

"Where is the primary concern here?" asked Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association. "Is it to ensure public decisions are going to be made in the public interest or is it to ensure post-government employment?"

Again, we don't begrudge McPartlin. He has done a fairly good job with the tollway, an agency that doesn't get much love from the public. He did have his problems with toll violation notices, but he and his employees have been working on cleaning that mess up. And he did oversee the opening of the southern extension of I-355, which gave suburban residents an easy route to I-80.

But he needs to be the last state department head or agency chief who goes on to immediately work and profit from companies with which the state does business. It's a simple concept. We're disappointed he didn't see that and outraged the state apparently allows it. It's time to fix it.