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Wednesday Letters: UNO lost its way along the road

Juan Rangel, former CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization | John H. White~Sun-Times

Hang around with Chicago politicians and you’ll get a swollen head, accompanied by delusions of being a big shot. Based on a reading of Dan Mihalopoulos’ article “UNO’s Secret Spending Spree,”(March 27, 2016), this is what seems to have happened to the United Neighborhood Organization’s former CEO, Juan Rangel.

UNO is a non-profit, social service group formed in 1984. But when Rangel became CEO in 1996, UNO became very cozy with city and state politicians. Rangel wined and dined aldermen, mayors, the Illinois House speaker and governors at UNO banquets. UNO annually awarded various politicians with plaques of “honor.” In return, politicians appointed Rangel to a city commission, invited him to fundraisers, and took tons of photos with him.

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Rangel had no experience managing charter schools, but he jumped on the gravy train. He used old-fashioned political clout to get millions of city and state dollars for UNO, and then created the supposedly independent UNO Charter School Network.

Rangel ran the schools while learning on the job. He earned the exorbitant annual salary of $275,000. As Mihalopoulos shows, Rangel engaged in “pinstripe-patronage” and gave million-dollar school construction contracts to two brothers of his top deputy, Miguel d’Escoto, and close friends.

Rangel developed exquisite taste. He traveled extensively around the world. He and his staff and board members ate regularly at fancy, expensive restaurants. All paid for by the taxpayers. Yet Rangel had the audacity to tell the Sun-Times that UNO’s records shouldn’t be available for public review.

UNO was once a reputable group that helped lower-income Mexican families. Ironically, the group distrusted politicians. But like past Saul Alinsky-style groups, UNO was mismanaged, corrupted and driven into the ground. How sad!

Wilfredo Cruz

Associate Professor of Sociology

Columbia College

Raise wages for social service workers

The ongoing state budget impasse has hurt vulnerable people throughout Illinois, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, people living with mental illness and seniors (among numerous others). Now, amidst the worst budget outlook community providers have ever had to face, we find ourselves confronting an even more urgent problem — an unprecedented direct service workforce shortage.

The community system of care that supports over 27,000 Illinois residents with developmental disabilities is on the brink of collapse due to historically high vacancy and turnover rates. The state budget impasse has coincided with an improved economy and substantial drop in unemployment rates. Community providers that support individuals with developmental disabilities are unable to compete with retail, food service and other healthcare providers for an increasingly shrinking market of potential employees.

Over the last 15 years, reimbursement rates from the State of Illinois for direct aupport workers have risen just 79 cents an hour. The statewide average wage for such workers is just $9.35 an hour. Unable to offer competitive wages, community agencies are experiencing crisis-level turnover and vacancy rates, threatening both quality and safety in service delivery for some of Illinois’ most vulnerable residents.

We urge the governor and state Legislature to end the budget impasse and raise the wage for direct support professionals. Take immediate steps to adopt a living wage of $15 an hour for direct service workers. We can’t wait any longer for a solution.

John Lipscomb, CEO

Search, Inc.

Chicago

Set Blago free

Get Blago out of prison already. The tsunami of fake outrage against the bungling ex-governor got everyone in Springfield padding their political profile. And to what end? Illinois is drowning in bad government.

Joan Chandler, Edgewater