Father speaks out on cleaning up gov't

March 4, 2009 3:36:02 PM PST
A minister who lost six children in a fiery crash that triggered the state's license for bribes investigation is sharing his thoughts about efforts to clean up state government. Reverend Scott Willis now sits on a commission created to come up with a blueprint for reform.

When he was asked to serve on the Illinois Reform Commission, Scott Willis initially thought that he would say no - that he just wasn't knowledgeable, nor available.

Then he thought, well, wait a minute, maybe that's part of the problem - hesitancy to get involved doesn't lead to change.

So Reverend Willis, who as a parent has suffered unimaginable loss, signed up to go to work as a commission member, and he has been learning a lot.

"I told two people close to me I heard there was an ethics commission starting here, and both of them had the same reaction. Both of them started laughing when I told them back in January, and then I told them I was asked to be on the commission they stopped. 'Oh that's good,'" said Willis.

Scott Willis took on this rather daunting assignment as something of an average Joe.

While he is that, he and his wife Janet are very visible examples that public corruption has real consequences. The loss of six of their children led to the trial and conviction of George Ryan.

Reverend Willis says he's learned a great deal from the Reform Commission's Public hearings thus far. He hasn't come to conclusions yet - nor has the commission - but he's giving a lot of thought to ideas like term limits, limiting campaign contributions, public financing of campaigns. And he's also learned that there are no "silver bullet" answers.

"A lot of people are like me. They think there's going to be an easy solution. And the more I listen, the more I keep my eyes and ears open, the more I realize, it's not going to be that easy. There's no simple solution," said Willis.

And yet, this commission's charge is - by the end of April - to come up with recommendations that will bite into this state's culture of corruption.

Scott Willis' focus is on developing codes of conduct, a broad-based challenge without an easy fix.

"We need to hold people responsible for their actions, and we have a tendency to be easy on the people we endorse and we like, and we need to hold everyone's feet to the fire to make sure they do the right thing," said Willis.

Commission members will be looking and may borrow a bit from private business models to refine and strengthen codes of conduct for public servants.

Well before its report is due next month, the commission this month will be issuing some recommendations in the arena of campaign financing which is again the subject of a commission hearing tomorrow in Chicago.

Scott Willis harbors no illusion that the group's work will end corruption, but he's confident its recommendations will work to restore some confidence.