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Craver: In McHenry County, some more equal than others

Published: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

In my years at the Northwest Herald, I’ve seen the McHenry County Good Ol’ Boys Network time and again protect its own from conduct that would land regular Joes in very big trouble.

Repetition doesn’t make it any easier to take. If you keep poking me in the eye, it doesn’t hurt any less.

It looks like I’m not alone, given the outrage in the community – and elsewhere, given the folks in Guy Fawkes masks wandering Woodstock Square – over the handling of the scandal surrounding Woodstock Police Sgt. Chip Amati and the “punishment” he received.

Amati received a 30-day suspension last October after an Illinois State Police investigation disclosed that he inappropriately used the state criminal database to look up information on his girlfriend. That investigation was prompted by the fact that the woman had come forward with texts showing that Amati had asked her 12-year-old daughter to text him “sexy pictures.”

Both the police chief and the state’s attorney’s office, which decided not to press charges, have maintained that the punishment fit the offense.

I can say with certainty that they would not have been so forgiving had I or you, the reader, been the offender. We lower creatures who are not government officials, monied interests or friends of either one go to jail for such things.

If there’s one lesson that Illinois residents have learned, much to our mounting disgust, it’s that two sets of standards exist. Regular Joes have to live up to the stringent one. Said officials and monied interests get to live and work under the lax one that is much more forgiving of mistakes.

Don’t believe me? Amati isn’t the only high-profile public official who made recent headlines for getting a pass from the authorities. Ask my fellow School District 47 taxpayers.

A Crystal Lake police officer in September 2012 gave a break to a now-former District 47 superintendent, who appeared to be intoxicated in his car, that regular folks would not have received. It gets better. Barely a month later, the school board voted – I kid you not – to implement the “Character Counts” character-education curriculum.

I combed that news story and the online comments to find somebody willing to point out the hypocrisy of the move, but I was left wanting. That’s because we’re used to this. Character only counts for the little people. Government employees, not so much.

Need more examples? Name one head that rolled at the McHenry County Department of Health over its disgraceful handling of the McCullom Lake brain cancer cluster that lawsuits blame on pollution from a deep-pocketed chemical company, or over the bungled mismanagement of Animal Control before that.

In the case of McCullom Lake, health department and County Board officials saw it as their duty to ride to the rescue of a multibillion-dollar chemical company. The Good Ol’ Boys Network circled the wagons to protect them after I reported in several investigative stories that the all-clear that the health department tried to sell had less scientific integrity than a third-grade class project.

Had the health department been right and had I screwed up the big investigative story, the Northwest Herald would have fired me. That’s what happens in the real world to regular people who have to live by the stricter set of standards.

Had any of us been in Amati’s shoes, how many of us would have lost our private-sector jobs on top of facing criminal charges? I’d lose my gig, that’s for sure.

Even more frustrating to me, I’ll wager that my career would, in fact, encourage elements of county government and law enforcement to go the extra mile to secure an indictment, regardless of whether a conviction would stick.

I have no idea why the hacking group Anonymous – the aforementioned folks with the Guy Fawkes masks – got involved with the Amati issue, but I’m thankful that they did. Government employees get breaks that the people who pay their salaries don’t, and people are sick of it.

It’s not disgraceful that they hide behind masks. Hiding behind the McHenry County Good Ol’ Boys Network, on the other hand, is the biggest disgrace.

• Kevin P. Craver is senior reporter for the Northwest Herald. He has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards during his 13 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or at kcraver@shawmedia.com.

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