I know it’s not really humorous, but I got my chuckle for the day from reading the Chicago Tribune account of how federal authorities raided the Village Hall building in south suburban Crestwood.
Led by agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, federal investigators spent the bulk of the day Wednesday at the village hall going through village government records.
IN SHORT, THEY'RE looking for anything irregular that might indicate illegal activity took place with regards to the suburb’s water supply, and the way municipal officials conducted themselves.
Village officials continue to say they have a safe water supply, and were never aware of any potential flaws with their water. That comes despite indications that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency first found problems more than two decades ago, and that no one bothered to inform the public until the past couple of weeks.
We shouldn’t make too much of Wednesday’s raid. It is very common for federal investigators when they suspect there’s a chance of something irregular to go all out with a public show of force. It makes the public think that the federal government is doing something to justify their share of the tax dollars that everybody pays out.
Hence, we get the sight of the Chicago Tribune photograph depicting an agent of the U.S. EPA looking bored stiff while talking to superiors on his cellphone, while in the background, staffers of the Crestwood village clerk’s office go about their daily routine of selling village auto stickers and accepting payments for bills.
YOU CAN ALMOST envision those employees telling the village residents (including the woman who appears to be writing out a check) to, “ignore the guys with the EPA logo on their jackets,” even though those guys are rifling through file cabinets and other records looking for information that could provide a clue as to who truly knew what about the quality of Crestwood drinking water.
Perhaps they were even going about trying to delude themselves into thinking that Wednesday was just another day – instead of being the day that a suburb that even by the standards of secretive government has little to say about itself had its underbelly exposed to the world by the federal government.
For the record, Crestwood officials said they were cooperating with the federal government. No one was threatening to brandish a weapon or use any other force to stop EPA investigators from looking for whatever it is they think constitutes evidence of “environmental crimes.”
I believe them.
THIS IS ONE of those situations where the worst thing a Crestwood official could do would be to try to interfere. Let the EPA probe village records related to water and public works, and there’s a good chance that the end result some year from now of all this activity will be a hefty fine against village government – which means that taxpayers themselves who once got the benefit of cheap water bills will someday have to pay more to cover the cost of the fines.
But if a municipal employee dares to try to interfere, then they make themselves a potential target for criminal investigation. It could literally result in bringing upon oneself a prison term (albeit just for a year or so).
Does any lowly municipal employee want to make themselves the human face of this investigation? Right now, it focuses on the generic concept of a municipality, although I wonder if it should become the legacy of the Stranczek family that has controlled the village president’s post since 1969.
Current President Robert Stranczek is trying to behave as though his usual practice (learned from father, Chester, who ran the town until 2007) of doing what he wants and ignoring what he finds displeasing can still work.
TAKE HIS BRIEF statement made Wednesday from the steps of the Village Hall on Cicero Avenue. “Right now, our drinking water is 100 percent safe and the village doesn’t believe there was anything wrong with it prior to this,” he said, before ignoring questions and going back to hide in his office. He thinks this is the final word.
Unfortunately, this is an issue that will stretch on for years. It is going to be one that we will get sick and tired of hearing. Many of us Chicago-area residents are going to be tired of having to think about Crestwood.
And like I mentioned earlier, the end result of all this is going to be a significant fine against the village – which will result in tax hikes that the local powers-that-be will try to blame on the federal government.
Which means in the end, it will be the public that gets dumped on again.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You have to love the photograph of the EPA agent-in-charge that accompanies (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/04/us-raids-crestwood-offices-in-water-probe.html) this story about Wednesday’s federal raid of Crestwood village hall.