Friday's Observer editorial:
The public does not yet know all the details surrounding Harold Cogdell and how he landed a job with a local nonprofit. But if this thing that walks and quacks like a duck is indeed a duck,
The county should have an independent investigation launched to determine exactly what happened. A dismissive “it’s politics” from Cogdell is not enough.
Here’s what we know: During county budget talks last summer, County Manager Harry Jones proposed cutting less than $2,000 from the county’s $281,957 allocation to
Cogdell, a Democrat, says there’s no connection. That’s possible. But it looks extremely suspicious and the public deserves a full accounting of what happened. Had Cogdell started talking with C.W. Williams about a job before he pushed for sharply higher county funding for it? What promises, if any, were made? How much is Cogdell, now the county’s top public official, being paid by an organization he helps fund? How did this one nonprofit, of the many the county funded, get to the top of Cogdell’s funding priorities?
The public deserves answers to these and other questions. Cogdell and C.W. Williams CEO Beverly Irby did not return calls from the Observer editorial board before our deadline Thursday.
Even if there was no explicit quid pro quo, it would at a minimum be unethical to fight for more funding for an agency that is a prospective employer. If any talks of a job had already been held, Cogdell should have recused himself. And fellow Democrats should have raised questions as soon as they had them, not only after Cogdell sided with Republicans to become chairman.
If Cogdell used his public office and control of taxpayers’ wallets for his personal gain, it would be a betrayal of public trust of the highest order. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison this week for public corruption. We don’t want that kind of pay-to-play culture in our local government.
Maybe this is all a big misunderstanding. Maybe Cogdell was just a big C.W. Williams fan and pushed for a sizable budget increase because he thought the group does good work. Maybe C.W. Williams then offered Cogdell a job just weeks later completely independent from his work on its behalf at county budget meetings. Maybe. An investigation needs to find out.
When Cogdell dethroned fellow Democrat Jennifer Roberts for the chairman’s title this week, he said it was about getting away from politics as usual. But if Cogdell won a job by pushing tax dollars toward one nonprofit, it’s politics at its worst.