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McCaleb: Whole lot of noise for $625K

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My apologies to those for whom this brings back bad memories of school-day standardized testing, but I’ll start today’s ramblings with a multiple choice question.

If you were in charge of McHenry County government for a day and had final say on how to spend, say, $625,000 in rainy day (taxpayer) money, would you:

A. Dedicate it to some road improvement or other capital project that would help the public at large?

B. Find a way to use it to help some of the county’s neediest residents?

C. Give it back to taxpayers?

D. Host an all-day grunge-metal music festival and invite the public?

If you answered A, B, or C, it could be argued that you’re putting the taxpayer money to reasonably good use.

If you answered D, many would say that you’re misusing taxpayer money on a bunch of guys who do nothing but stand on a stage and make a racket.

What’s my point in all this?

Well, I’d argue that the special prosecution of Lou Bianchi was nothing more than a couple of guys standing on a stage they created, making a racket.

Let’s go back to 2009, when Judge Gordon Graham appointed special prosecutors Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen to investigate corruption-related claims against Bianchi.

At the time, Bianchi was McHenry County state’s attorney and had a clean record.

But the special prosecutors made a bunch of noise. Bianchi was using the public’s office as his campaign headquarters, they proclaimed from their stage. He used his power to give preferential treatment to distant relatives and the distant relatives of staff, they shouted.

The special prosecutors indicted Bianchi and some of his staff on more than 20 counts. Because they had little in the way of evidence, they lost on every single one of them. Some of the counts were dismissed before they even went to trial. The remaining were dismissed by a judge before Bianchi had to present a defense.

Today, a few years after the special prosecution began, Bianchi remains state’s attorney. He continues to have a clean record.

We all put up with a bunch of noise, but nothing has changed. Well, almost nothing,

After all that racket, county taxpayers likely will be about $625,000 lighter in the wallet.

An Illinois appellate court ruled last week that the county – i.e., taxpayers – must pay the full amount due to Tonigan and McQueen, who say they still are owed $200,349.

To date, taxpayers already have forked over a net $425,000 for the bungled prosecution of Bianchi. (This number includes a $275,000 settlement with Bianchi and his secretary to help pay their legal fees. But the county recouped $100,000 of Bianchi’s fee when Tonigan settled a wrongful prosecution lawsuit filed by Bianchi.)

Though County Board Chairman Ken Koehler vows to appeal the appellate court’s ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court, if the county loses there, taxpayers then will have shelled out more than $625,000.

That’s $625,000 for a bunch of noise, many, many headaches, and not much else.

That’s one expensive racket.

• • •

Pretty in pink: Today is the last day of September. That means tomorrow is Oct. 1, the beginning of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In addition to seeing NFL players, high school students and many others don pink garments in honor of the month, we’ll publish a special pink section in Wednesday’s edition. A portion of the proceeds from the special section will go to the Centegra Health System Foundation’s Breast Care Fund to benefit the Centegra Gavers Breast Center.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 39,500 women will die of breast cancer this year. And more than 225,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women.

Breast cancer touches nearly everyone of us in some way.

Whatever you can do to help, whether it’s donating time or money to an organization that treats breast cancer patients or is seeking a cure, whether it’s raising awareness about the importance of early detection through self-examinations and mammograms, please take some action.

The next woman who’s saved could be one you love.

• • •

Plan on it: If you’re a regular reader of Sidetracks, our Thursday entertainment section, you probably saw Features Editor R. Scott Helmchen’s column about the big changes that are coming this week.

Sidetracks and PlanitNorthwest.com are by far the two biggest providers of entertainment news and information in and about McHenry County. PlanitNorthwest also is the place to go for reduced-price vouchers, coupons and other deals from area restaurants, retailers and other McHenry County businesses.

Since Sidetracks and PlanitNorthwest.com both fall under the Northwest Herald umbrella, we are combining the two into one monster of an entertainment hub.

The Thursday Sidetracks section is being renamed PlanitPl@y, and is being expanded to include new features. Sunday Slice will be turned into a magazine-style section called Planit Style. It will include news and features about home, garden, travel, books, fashion and more.

Online, PlanitNorthwest.com now will host all of the great expanded content of Sidetracks, and continue to be the local shopper’s paradise that it’s been since first launching three years ago.

Please let us know what you think after our launch Thursday.

• • •

Saturday concluded our four-day series on bullying in McHenry County, “Confronting the Bully.” Though the series is over, our coverage of this important issue is not.

The sad reality is that bullying is going on in our schools, our neighborhoods and, because of cyberbullying, our homes. If you missed any part of the series, you can still read it and watch videos at www.nwherald.com/projects/bullying.

We also will be co-hosting a special screening of “Finding Kind,” a documentary about girl-on-girl bullying and boys’ role in it. The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at McHenry High School – West Campus.

The makers of “Finding Kind,” Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson, will be at the screening and talk about their cross-country journey in making the film. They’ll also answer questions from the audience.

I hope to see you there.

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NWHeditor.

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