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Signs of Change

The buzz around Rahm Emanuel's inauguration this week reminded me of each time a new Secretary of State took office and signs had to be changed.

I served under four Secretaries of State: Dixon, Edgar, Ryan and White. The day each one was sworn into office, the process to change the name on the signs began post-haste. We are talking a lot of signs here. There were signs in hallways; signs on doors; signs outside buildings; and signs from Rockford to Cairo. Signs, signs everywhere a sign, clogging up the scenery. Breaking my mind.

I was a special agent supervisor for the Chicago office of the Secretary of State inspector general in 1991 when George Ryan was sworn in as Illinois' 36th Secretary of State. That morning, a couple of workers removed Jim Edgar's name from our office's lobby door and put Ryan's name in place. Edgar was a good boss and I knew it was an end to an era.

Additionally, in a true example of government efficacy, Edgar's photo was removed from the front office's wall and swapped with an image of Ryan that was three times larger. It was an omen of the problems we were about to face in the Department of Inspector General.

Similar deeds in Chicago were being reported as Rahm Emanuel began to assume office this week. The new mayor quickly reacted and ordered that only signs that were "essential" be changed. Some of those essential locations included the airport and the Skyway.

"I do not want people rushing out, making changes on a whole bunch of signs, wasting time, wasting dollars, for no reason," Emanuel declared.

Back in February, when Rahm was still just a candidate for mayor, he reminded city workers that they were "actually public servants." I am glad some of the workers were able to serve the public this week by letting us know who their new boss is. We might otherwise have been in left the dark.

Who says government workers are lazy?

Not me. Especially in these times of budget deficits, we Americans like to complain about how the government never gets anything done. Sometimes the griping is legitimate, but generally unfair.

Sure there are often long lines at the post office. That's because they operate with fewer front-line employees than a purely private operation might. Walmart even has greeters, for godsakes.

I find the postal service very efficient. Where else can you get an item delivered in three days across 3,000 miles at the bargain rate of 42 cents?

Another common grievance are the long lines at the DMV. In Illinois, that is the Secretary of State's responsibility. The three largest motor vehicle facilities in Chicago handle 3,000 to 4,000 customers a day. I think the lines were longer several years ago when accepting a bribe for a driver's license was the standard operating procedure for some of the less altruistic examiners.

Today, the motor vehicle facilities operate with much more efficiency. Part of that is due to online and telephone renewals.

All my life, I have heard people grumble the cliche, "Where's a cop when you need one?" What they really mean is that a cop is always right behind them when they break the law, but nowhere to be found when their neighbor's Memorial Day party is too loud.

Based on my experience working as a peace officer for both the state and a municipality, the police make a valiant effort to respond to each and every incident in a timely fashion, and the more serious ones as fast as humanly possible. This is the backbone of law enforcement.

I personally believe most government workers, whether teacher, firefighter, sanitation worker or bus driver works as hard as everyone else with great deal of pride in their service.

Here's to hoping the new mayor resolves the budget problems, ends patronage hiring, raises test scores, and halts police impropriety. The city's public servants can then post a sign in front of City Hall proclaiming "Mission Accomplished."

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Ed Hammer is a retired Illinois Secretary of State Police Captain and author of the book One Hundred Percent Guilty: How and Insider Links the Death of Six Children to the Politics of Convicted Governor George Ryan.

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See also:
* George Ryan's Park Bench
* George Ryan's Dogs and Ponies
* George Ryan's Other Jailhouse Interview
* Bugging The Chicago School Board
* Cop vs. Teacher

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on May 20, 2011


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