Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Two keys to the landfill probe

Both the Tribune and Sun-Times zeroed in on grand jury testimony in the investigation of the Rod Blagojevich administration's fishy shut-down of a Joliet landfill connected to a relative of his estranged father-in-law, Dick Mell.

Here's where it looks like the administration is exposed. These points could sink the administration's claim that its actions were typical enforcement measures and not a vindicative use of government to settle a political score.

1. Number of visits to the site. The Sun-Times story quotes a memo from the landfill operator's former lawyer saying state officials went the site six times in nine days between Dec. 28, 2004, and Jan. 5, 2005, resting only for New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Jan. 2.

"This place is clean I don't understand why we are still here."

"I have never done this before. I have never been at one place this long."

That seems extraordinary for a site with a few stray tires. Who ordered the visits? The Sun-Times earlier this year suggested the investigation is exploring the role of Blagojevich's chief of staff and campaign manager Lon Monk, and Chris Kelly, one of his two top fundraiser reportedly under federal investigation for various other schemes.

2. History of sealing similar landfills under similar circumstances. Did the state ever file an emergency order to seal a landfill with this flimsy an argument for such dramatic action? I always thought it looked conspicuous that Blagojevich's people tried to shut another landfill down a few days later -- a move that was immediately smacked down in court.

The administration's use of a so-called seal order to shut down the dumps in Joliet and near Ford Heights is extremely rare. One environmental attorney said seal orders had been used in only a handful of cases in the last six years, normally involving an immediate threat to public health.

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