Cantwell inherited this mess from her predecessor, Tom Schneider, who handed over the water company to a few political cronies six years ago. That deal was so cushy it would have made a Chicago alderman blush. No bids were taken. The principals in the transaction invested $1,000, and the city tossed in $4.84 million in cash, vehicles and other assets to help their new company get its feet wet providing water to Lawrence.
Now, those same investors, along with friends, relatives and others connected to Lawrence Utilities LLC, will receive $300,000 at the deal's close, plus $3 million paid with interest over four years. Water may be a natural growth agent, but that rate of return is ridiculous.
The Star's editorial writers think Cantwell is rushing a deal because an election is three weeks away. They also believe she's guilty of the same hubris of which she criticized her predecessor. "An agreement that enriches a few at public expense," it reads. "Scant accountability for the mayor who arranged the transfer." "Handling a municipal asset in a fashion that has more to do with protecting political interests than in guarding the public's trust."
I've never understood how the local FBI office could have investigated this deal and walked away from it without bringing any criminal charges. You would be hard-pressed to find deals as bad as this that haven't been prosecuted in Chicago in recent years by the same federal law enforcement agency. I don't know what's going on with the Justice Department in this town, but it seems to have a cozy relationship with all the folks who have been abusing the public trust for decades now in this town. The litigation the city has against the the utility has already established the former mayor broke state law by awarding the deal with the assistance of the state's major law firm, which for the record, was acting as a mere "scrivener." If the feds were unwilling to protect the public, you would think someone in our prosecutor's office or the state attorney general's office would do something to protect the public from this abuse. That would just be wishful thinking though.