We’re not saying something reeks in the abrupt, out-of-left-field legislative play to wrest control of Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the state agency that oversees it.
But something definitely stinks.
Why this effort — which is of particular interest to the Springfield community and has wide-ranging implications — is being advanced during the busy, waning days of the legislative session with little input from anyone with a vested interest in the matter is a mystery that no one wants to talk about.
It was one week ago May 30, with just a week left in the legislative session, that House Speaker Michael Madigan filed an amendment to House Bill 3836, calling for the presidential library and museum to become an independent state agency.
Currently, the library and museum is under the direction of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
On Memorial Day, when few people were watching, members of the House Executive Committee approved the proposal in a 10-1 vote. The next day it passed the House 84-29. Local representatives Raymond Poe, Wayne Rosenthal and Sue Scherer voted no; Rep. Rich Brauer voted yes.
The bill now is under consideration in the Senate. It should languish there until people in power start letting the rest of us in on what exactly is going on at the relatively young research facility and within the state historic preservation agency that can’t be addressed through means other than dismantling existing oversight and creating a brand-new state agency.
So far Madigan seems to be the only person involved who is taking questions these days. He artfully said he wants the facility to be able to “chart its own destiny” and that it is hamstrung by IHPA oversight when it comes to hiring experts and determining themes and exhibits.
Under Madigan’s proposal, the advisory board that oversees the ALPLM would become the governing board of the facility.
The governor no longer would have authority to name the facility’s executive director, though the governor would appoint board members.
Coincidentally — or not — Madigan is a friend of ALPLM director Eileen Mackevich and her longtime friend Stanley Balzekas, who is landlord for Madigan’s state office in Chicago. Madigan denied that his relationship with the two influenced his decision to push the proposal. That’s a little hard to believe.
An attempt by The State Journal-Register to speak with Mackevich on Thursday was unsuccessful. A reporter was told Mackevich, who is paid about $150,000 a year by Illinois taxpayers, won’t be commenting until the situation plays out.
She did, however, find it possible to speak with a Chicago newspaper on May 26, saying the library and museum would be stronger as a stand-alone agency.
Sunny Fischer, chairwoman of the IHPA board of trustees — which is separate from the advisory board that oversees the library and museum — issued a lengthy prepared statement on May 28 on behalf of the board. But, otherwise, board members apparently are not commenting.
And Gov. Pat Quinn as of Thursday afternoon still wasn’t weighing in — even with something as simple as, “Let’s slow down here.” A spokesman said Quinn staff were still reviewing the legislation which, “just emerged a few days ago during the busiest part of the legislative session.”
Quinn named Mackevich executive director of the library and museum in late 2010 after a “unanimous recommendation” by the IHPA board of trustees.
The cost of turning the ALPLM into a separate state agency is estimated at $2.4 million, at minimum. That’s hard to swallow when the state already struggles to pay its bills and appears poised to pass a deferred budget.
Like so many others, we are at a loss as to why this is something that has to be done now, by this legislature, with such haste and lack of transparency.
Taxpayers deserve more answers to the questions swirling around this proposal. This is especially true for the Springfield community, which has been overwhelmingly supportive of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum since it officially opened in 2005 with great pomp and circumstance.
Lawmakers need to slow down this bill and give stakeholders a chance to digest it before any decisions are made.
—GateHouse News Service