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Local Government Wed Dec 22 2010

Better Government Association Adds to, Restructures Board

The Better Government Association recently made some significant changes to its board of directors -- and its overall governance structure -- in an effort to broaden and strengthen its connection to Chicago's minority communities and to expand its reach in Illinois beyond the collar counties.

bga_bulldog.jpg"We passed a package pertaining to the roles of board members, and added job descriptions for board members and for officers, and the board voted to elect new officers for the beginning of 2011," said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the BGA. "We spent the fall coming up with a new list of board officers, new committee chairmen and a new list of board prospects that we could recruit and ask to join us, and several weeks ago we approved seven new board members, the most so far. We can add five to 10 more, I believe. The seven we approved are very formidable, it's a very impressive group."

At its last meeting, the BGA board of directors voted to add seven new board members, including David Hoffman, former Chicago inspector general and senate candidate; Graham C. Grady, partner at the law firm of Bell, Boyd & Lloyd; Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois; Tamara Edmonds Askew, director of the American Bar Association's Section on State and Local Government; M. Hill Hammock, former chief administrative officer of Chicago Public Schools and former vice chairman and COO of LaSalle Bank; Mary Lee Leahy, influential Springfield attorney; and Jack Modzelewski, president of client relations at Fleishman-Hillard. An eighth new member, DePaul University general counsel Jose Padilla, is expected to be confirmed at the next board meeting January 21, when the others will be seated for the first time.

Additionally, Rod Heard, partner at law firm Barnes & Thornburg, was named chairman of the board, Phil Clement, global chief marketing and communications officer of Aon, was named vice chair. And Shaw's title was changed from executive director to president and CEO.

The BGA also created a new tier to its oversight structure: "life trustees," which is made up of former board members who have each served for several decades. Moving these senior board members to the life trustee board made room for new blood, Shaw said, "people who understand government, are committed to improving it, and have the contacts and resources to carry on our mission."

Of the new board members, three are women and three (including Padilla) are minorities.

"One of the goals of this outreach program, including adding new board members, was to increase diversity. We have not been as successful as we should be in reaching minority communities," Shaw said. "The irony is, when government fails, it hurts the people who have the least the most -- and that tends to be disproportionately in minority communities. Bad government hurts minority communities more, because there are more people who need the services of government to be effective. And so we've noticed, from the beginning of my time here, that we have a need to have much more of a reach and impact in minority communities so we can be more helpful and responsive, and that the people of minority communities can partner with us, that they can become members and work with us on advocacy campaigns."

Shaw spoke a bit about what each new board member brings to the organization.

"David Hoffman epitomizes good government in everything he's done. At the US attorney's office, as an aide in the US Senate, as inspector general for Chicago, as a leading member of the reform commission put together by Governor Quinn, he has basically pushed a good government agenda his entire adult life, and as a result he knows exactly what government behavior is tolerable and what is intolerable. He knows what reform legislation ought to be pushed and adopted, he understands what bad behavior looks like because he's seen so much of it. He'll be hugely helpful in all those areas, and he has a terrific chance to help us with outreach and connections to people because his senate campaign put him in touch with people across the state.

"Hill Hammock was a vice president at LaSalle Bank and a major businessman in Chicago who is on the civic committee of the Commercial Club. He knows virtually all of the top businesspeople of Chicago, and he is a public policy expert, having spent a couple years as Arne Duncan's chief operating officer of the Public Schools. So he understands public policy and he understands business, so he should be hugely helpful in both those arenas.

"We wanted to have someone on our board who runs another nonprofit, just to diversify our board. Our board had many, many lawyers, and that's fine, but we need to diversify beyond lawyers. So one of my goals in expanding the board was to diversify in terms of race, ethnicity and background. Robin Steans is the head of Advance Illinois, which is a very important school reform group. We thought she would bring a lot of knowledge of education to us. She also comes from a family that includes state senator Heather Steans and her father Harrison Steans, who was a prominent businessman. So they have tremendous roots in Chicago and offer us the potential to connect a bunch of people and help us on the policy front.

"Jack Modzelewski is in charge of client relations at Fleishman-Hillard. He is someone on the board of the Medill Journalism School, he was a journalist himself, and he cares deeply about public policy. He understands public relations and public policy from his time at Fleishman, so he's another guy who'll help us with policy. And again, he can help with outreach.

"Graham Grady was the former zoning commissioner for the City of Chicago. He is working with the Chicago Community Trust on a planned giving program for minorities, so he will be tremendously helpful in dealing with public policy issues, also with connecting us with the foundation community -- he sits on the board called the Fry Foundation.

"Tamara Askew, she has to deal with local government issues as they relate to affirmative action, status of women and the role of minorities, so from her standpoint at the ABA, she's someone who can help us with our outreach into minority communities and with public policy issues. She also helps us with diversity.

"Mary Lee Leahy, she accomplishes one of our main objectives, which is to expand the scope and impact of BGA beyond Chicago and the collar counties to get to the rest of Illinois. Mary Lee is someone I like to refer to as the Dawn Clark Netsch of Central Illinois -- someone who's been involved in progressive politics and good government her entire adult life. She in fact was Rod Blagojevich's first ethics officer in 2002. She didn't last a long time with Mr. Blagojevich because she probably noticed they seemed to be ethically challenged, but she was appointed to that. She is with a law firm that has offices both in Springfield and Chicago, so she'll become a co-chair of our public policy committee. She has been interested and active in the area of public policy for her entire adult life.

"So Mary Lee Leahy is an expert on state government, and Tamara Askew is an expert on state and local government and problems of minority communities. Hill Hammock is an expert on education. David Hoffman is an expert on good and bad government at all levels. Robin Steans, the education issue. Graham Grady, an expert on city and county government, and Jack M on the Medill board and interested in news.

"Every one of these people brings a very important and different skill to the table, and that's going to make us much more formidable."

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