Mihalopoulos: Board games prompt changes in the players

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Chicago Police Board president Demetrius E. Carneyin 2003. File Photo by Jim Frost Sun-Times.

Chicago Police Board president Demetrius E. Carneyin 2003. File Photo by Jim Frost Sun-Times.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in the news this week for major changes he’s making to the Chicago Board of Education and the city’s police board.

Gone are many of the school board members who nodded along as Chicago Public Schools officials signed contracts with education consultants whom Barbara Byrd-Bennett had worked for before Emanuel chose her as CPS’ chief executive.

Byrd-Bennett, too, is now gone, after federal investigators sought records on her, her itinerant band of top aides and the consultants/former Byrd-Bennett employers who got a $20.5 million, no-bid contract from CPS.

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The departing board members included Deborah Quazzo, who said she saw no conflict between her roles as education reformer and education entrepreneur. Quazzo had insisted her motivations were above reproach — and continued to enjoy Emanuel’s backing — after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed her investments in companies that do business with CPS and also with board-approved, taxpayer-funded charter schools.

Besides the CPS shake-up, the other big change this week was replacing longtime Chicago Police Board chairman Demetrius Carney with former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot. The board is the “independent civilian body” that decides whether to mete out any serious discipline when cops are accused of misconduct

But Emanuel’s police board continues to rely on — for now, at least — four members who formed the dissenting opinion in one of the most infamous recent cases of cops behaving badly.

Sun-Times reporters Frank Main and Kim Janssen reported last week on two white police officers who posed for a photograph holding rifles and looming over a black man on his belly, wearing deer antlers.

By the time the photo surfaced, one of the two officers already was in prison for a litany of crimes. The other cop, Timothy McDermott, has been fighting to reverse his firing over the photo.

By a 5-4 vote, the board had voted to dismiss McDermott. The majority opinion blasted him for the “disgraceful” photo in which an unidentified African-American suspect was portrayed “not as a human being but as a hunted animal.” McDermott’s behavior, the majority agreed, “breeds public contempt for and resistance to the Chicago Police Department.”

You’d think that would’ve been obvious to all nine police board members. But apparently it wasn’t to the four who wanted McDermott to keep his CPD job. They would be: Susan L. McKeever, Melissa Ballate, Elisa Rodriguez and retired Cook County Circuit Judge Rhoda Davis Sweeney.

McKeever, who’s a lawyer, and Ballate, president of the Blue Daring marketing firm, didn’t return calls. Rodriguez declined to come to the phone at her law firm, and her receptionist said she could only redirect me to the police board staff.

The only one to call back was Sweeney, who said she “really can’t expound on” her vote because the McDermott case is headed to court. She suggested I read the dissent signed by her and the other three, which reads in full:

“There is no doubt that the respondent’s conduct impedes the department’s efforts to achieve its policy and goals and brings discredit upon the department. There is no doubt that the respondent exercised poor judgment when he stepped into the picture. While there can be no excuse for agreeing to participate in the picture, there was no actual physical harm to the individual and respondent has had a positive job performance since the picture was taken over 10 years ago. Respondent has displayed good character and has a good reputation. He has had many years of excellent service to the department as a detective. Accordingly we find that a suspension and not termination is a more fitting penalty for his poor judgment.”

Based on their own poor judgment in the McDermott case, the four who signed that statement could well become the next Emanuel board members who are thanked and excused from further service to the city.

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