Out Here: Concerned about group’s finances?

You would think that a representative of a conservative think tank would get a pretty good reception from the Lee County Board, which counts 26 Republicans among its 28 members.

But you’d be wrong.

Recently, Brian Costin of the Chicago-based Illinois Policy Institute spoke to the board during its public comment segment. His big push – government openness.

A couple of months ago, his group gave Lee County a failing grade for transparency on its website. The county was far from alone with the low marks. But it didn’t sit well with county officials.

Still, why didn’t the board at least find some common cause with the institute? After all, the think tank is a constant thorn in the side of the state’s Chicago-based political machine. It criticizes state spending and corruption.

Lee County Board members also grumble about Chicago politics. But that didn’t lighten the mood when Costin spoke. Perhaps members didn’t know about the institute’s political bent.

They peppered Costin with questions about the nonprofit group’s funding sources.

Costin said the group doesn’t reveal its contributors publicly.

“People attack them for supporting us,” he told the board.

He added that his group gets no government funding.

That’s important. Everyone who contributes does so voluntarily. No one is forced to donate through the imposition of taxes.

If the Lee County Board is so concerned about this group’s financial accountability, perhaps it could ask the Lee County Council on Aging and other groups that get money from the county’s senior tax levy to provide their complete budgets, so we know how they’re spending their money.

Earlier this year, we sought the budget for the Whiteside County Senior Center, which gets tens of thousands in county money annually. But the center told us its budget was private. Legally, it was right.

Of course, Whiteside County could require the release of such information in return for giving taxpayers’ money. But it doesn’t. Same with Lee County.

We choose whether to contribute to nonprofit groups such as the Illinois Policy Institute. That’s not the case with our tax dollars.

A moral and legal responsibility

Recently, I wrote a story about a change in the Morrison Police Department’s policy on lost property. Previously, when no one claimed lost property, it was finders keepers. Now, the city would auction it off.

State law requires that municipalities hold auctions for unclaimed property, but area cities differ on how they handle unclaimed cash – which, obviously, you can’t auction off.

In Dixon, it’s finders keepers for unclaimed cash after 6 months of the department’s efforts searching for the owner.

In Sterling, the police auctions off unclaimed property after 6 months and keeps unclaimed cash.

In my story, I mentioned the state Disposition of Property Act, which deals with lost property but doesn’t specifically address how to handle cash.

Sterling police Lt. Tim Morgan, who I interviewed for the story, sent me an email afterward saying I should have mentioned the state law dealing with “theft of lost or mislaid property.”

According to the law, a person “commits theft of lost or mislaid property when he or she obtains control over the property and:

“(a) Knows or learns the identity of the owner or knows, or is aware of, or learns of a reasonable method of identifying the owner, and

“(b) Fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner, and

“(c) intends to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property.”

Morgan said the “tricky” part of the law is the section about the “reasonable measures to restore the property.”

He gave some examples of situations that involve lost property.

“You are driving down the road behind a Brink’s truck and a bag of money falls out,” Morgan wrote. “You stop, pick up the money and take it home and keep the money and do nothing to notify Brink’s of your find. You are just as guilty as if you had walked up and took the bag from the truck while it was stopped at a bank.”

He also gave an example of someone finding a wallet or purse, removing the money and throwing everything else in the trash.

“You have again committed the offense of theft,” Morgan said. “Chances are there is something in that item that identifies the owner and therefore places a responsibility on the finder to seek out the owner.”

For years, he said, the logical “lost and found” for any city has been the Police Department. So he said the public has some expectation that a lost item may be turned in to the police.

Of course, no one has a duty to pick up lost property. But once you do, you have both a moral and a legal responsibility to do the right thing.

Sauk Valley Media reporter David Giuliani covers the Whiteside and Lee county governments, Morrison and other smaller communities. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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