Was CPS quarter million dollar 'CEO' at home in Ohio as weather crisis grew in Chicago?... Barbara Byrd Bennett lied to reporters on January 6 about CTU press release and Karen Lewis's suggestion to use 'common sense' and close the schools

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was not the only city official lying or dissembling to reporters during a series of hastily called and largely controlled media events on January 6, 2014, the first of two days during which the public schools were closed because of the coldest days of the 21st Century. Emanuel's schools chief, "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett, was also lying. Byrd Bennett told reporters that she wasn't aware of statements by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis that schools should be closed, that "common sense" required it.

News photos, such as the one above from WLS Chicago, showed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett (behind Rahm) on duty on Monday, January 7, 2014, but everyone in Chicago knew that Rahm had been on vacation for two weeks in sunny Indonesia as the crisis loomed and CPS stubbornly kept announcing that schools would be open on Monday, January 6, despite the coldest weather in the 21st Century. Rahm actually bragged that he could manage Chicago from a tropical island when he returned on January 7. But many speculated that the invisibility of the schools chief was because she had, as usual, decamped to her home in Solon Ohio as the crisis loomed and was unable to get back before late Sunday.And although Rahm Emanuel's vacation in Indonesia and tropical sun tan were the best evidence that at least one Chicago official was out of town when the winter crises began to unfold, there is no evidence that Byrd Bennett was around after Friday, January 3, when the serious snow began. As most careful observers know, while Byrd Bennett was willing to come to town from Detroit to Chicago to take the job of "Chief Executive Officer" for CPS (at an annual salary of a quarter million dollars a year), she reserved for herself the right to do outside work, which has been barred for top officials of CPS by the ethics code, for years. And she also gave herself an exemption from the CPS residency rules, maintaining her main home in Solon, Ohio, a fancy suburb of Cleveland, and commuting from Ohio to Chicago on a regular basis.

Although most Chicago reporters had become accustomed to the practice of the CPS administration of having their media events done via press releases and the careful exclusion of most reporters from breaking news information, the whereabouts of the quarter million dollar CEO of CPS during the weekend of January 3 - 6, 2014 became an issue when CPS seemed determined to keep schools open on Monday January 7 despite the killer cold that was being accurately predicated.

What most Chicagoans have not known is that on many weekends, their schools chief is not in Chicago, but at her home in Ohio, a state which has provided more executive "talent" to Chicago's schools since she took over in October 2012 than has Illinois. Byrd Bennett hired the heads of special education and so-called "Strategic" planning from Ohio, and others have been hired from out of town.

The first time Chicago heard of Barbara Byrd Bennett was in May 2012, when the Board of Education approved a no-bid contract to retain her services as a so-called "Chief Education Advisor" to then-CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. The hiring, which was not on the public agenda of the Board but was only revealed in the "Action Agenda" for that Board meeting, provided that Byrd Bennett, who at the time was working in Detroit, be paid more than $20,000 per month for vaguely described duties in Chicago. At the time, her address was listed as 38155 Flanders Drive, Solon, OH 44139. The Board has kept secret via repeated votes any discussions that took place during its closed sessions about the undisclosed terms of Byrd Bennett's employment.

Barbara Byrd Bennett was originally hired as a consultant to Chicago Public Schools at a monthly salary of $21,500 by a vote of the Board at its May 2012 meeting. By that time, the Board had learned that their "Chief Executive Officer," Jean-Claude Brizard, has misread the ability of the Chicago Teachers Union to win a strike authorization vote despite a draconian law that required that 75 percent of the union's membership authorize a strike. The law, which singled out the Chicago Teachers Union, was praised by plutocrats including Chicago billionaire James Crown, but failed to stop the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. Byrd Bennett, working as a consultant, was seated at the bargaining table with CPS officials (who excluded Brizard) during the final weeks of negotiations and during he seven-day strike. This document is the first public notice that Chicago was hiring Byrd Bennett.Although the focus on January 7 was on Rahm Emanuel's vacation activities and his sun tan, reporters have also been noting that Byrd Bennett almost never holds press conferences despite a stage facility at the Board's headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. Also noted is the fact that CPS officials usually try to manipulate reporters by excluding anyone asking critical questions from inside information, while attempting to favor a few who cater to the official version of reality put out by Becky Carroll and the current leadership at the "Communications Office."

The devotion of CPS officials to covering up and apologizing for the mayor is not new, but the attempt by Barbara Byrd Bennett, with a straight face, to claim that she didn't know about the CTU press release and the remarks of the union president is more bold than usual. Wherever she was over the weekend of January 3 - 5, 2014, Byrd Bennett knew how to be in contact with Karen Lewis and was likely doing so, despite her subsequent denials in person and via official spokesman Joel Hodd.

Substance reporters are not the only ones snubbed by Rahm Emanuel and his minions. The Chicago Tribune has earned the enmity of Barbara Byrd Bennett and the Communications staff at CPS by asking factual questions and attempting, under the Freedom of Information Act, to force more "transparency" from an administration that talks transparent while spreading murky.

At the January 6 mayoral media event, Rahm Emanuel ignored attempted questions from Tribune reporter John Kass, just as he had ignored Substance questions for more than two years. Kass's report in the January 7, 2014 Tribune was a masterpiece of the Mike Royko style of reporting that Kass was placed on Page Two to continue.


John Kass

January 7, 2014

Nice tan, Mr. Mayor!

You came back from steamy and tropical Indonesia to a city frozen in ice and snow, where the side streets and alleys hadn't been plowed and where schoolkids were almost sent into the worst of the cold.

But Rahm Emanuel wasn't worried. He held a Monday news conference about the cold, and almost all of his commissioners who flanked him were dressed like the mayor, in fleece and boots, bureaucrats eager to play the heroic action figure for the cameras.


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The women were dressed professionally. But of the men, only police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Housing Authority boss Mike Merchant were secure enough to wear suits and ties. Their mothers had raised them properly.

Rahm? He had some kind of Jack Bauer fleece going on.

"I was away with my family on holiday," he said at the news conference that I just couldn't miss, which is why you're getting a bonus column from me today "and I was in regular contact."

Of course, he was in regular contact. But he wouldn't take my questions, so I couldn't ask him about his killer tan, though a few reporters speculated privately he might have used a wee bit of powder to tamp down that bronze sheen.

"Every one of the commissioners know and would report I've been in contact with them on a regular basis, and with my chief of staff multiple times on a daily basis," said Mayor Rahmfather, adding that his family didn't think he was on vacation given all his communicating with City Hall.

It all sounded so smooth, kind of like Nancy Pelosi's face only with words, until I realized something.

The mayor of Chicago had been rolled and embarrassed by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis into closing Chicago Public Schools.

City Hall's original plan with Rahm in the tropics was to keep the schools open Monday. But for days previous, every weathercaster in America, and Matt Drudge, knew that on Monday, Chicago would just about freeze its brass monkeys off.

And still Team Rahm considered keeping schools open, until Lewis issued a short news release saying that "common sense" dictated that schools be closed for the safety of the children. And it was done.

Schools closed.

Lewis didn't merely roll him. She dropped him in flour, flipped him over a bit in there for a thorough dusting, then slipped him into a hot frying pan as if he were some tiny Indonesian smelt.

You can imagine her singing "Bali Hai" as she popped him into her mouth, crunching down on his diminutive and crispy, mayoral form.

But that's not the way Team Rahm sees it.

He was asked about how he let things get so far with the 40-below wind chill and parents not knowing late into Sunday afternoon whether schools would be open, when he stepped back and bravely allowed his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett to answer for him.

"That's not quite accurate," she told reporters of the Lewis-rolled-Rahm-again scenario. "As we began to take a look at the decrease in the temperature, and a decrease in the wind chill factor we thought it best. It may have seemed at the last minute, but it wasn't."

Byrd-Bennett was asked, didn't the teachers union compel you to close schools with its social media campaign?

"I actually was not aware they had done that," said Triple-B, proving she was the only person in Chicago who didn't know. "Somebody did send me an email that there was a press release or whatever but that had no effect on the ultimate decision I've made and the recommendation I made to the mayor."

And that is how a loyal bureaucrat falls on a sword made of ice.

It's obvious that as he begins his re-election phase, the mayor of Chicago is so confident that he goes to Indonesia while Chicago freezes and the side streets and alleys hadn't been plowed.

Not sending out front-end loaders into the wards early in the storm was foolish. Those pieces of equipment, called high-lifts in the Streets and Sanitation Department, could have cleared the alleys. But for all their fleece and boots, the bureaucratic men of action are just bureaucrats, and they need a mayor breathing on them to make a decision.

A City Hall type scoffed privately that the Rahmfather doesn't hang out on beaches. He'd rather go on rugged adventures.

But much as I'd like to picture him hunting deadly pythons with chopsticks and a burlap sack, or riding Komodo dragons to show them who's boss, gripping them with his dancer's thighs while mocking their terrible jaws, I'd rather stick to the jungles of Chicago politics.

And in Chicago politics, smart mayors don't get suntans in January, not when they're a little more than a year out from an election.

Most voters and taxpayers don't have the cash to go on a tropical vacation. They don't like getting their noses rubbed into it by the political class.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley was terrified of suntans in January. Legend has it that he'd never hang out poolside at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, content to wait until sunset to venture forth for the entertainments of South Florida.

For all his faults, from that Mayor Chucky crankiness to the arrogance of spending the city into the financial sinkhole, Daley understood how much Chicago could take.

And Rahm, with that Indonesian bronze going on, only thinks he does.

Twitter @John_Kass


January 7, 2014 at 3:43 PM

By: Bob Busch


Mr Kass might have added hung draw cleaved and quartered to his story.

January 7, 2014 at 6:24 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Kass doesn't leave town over the Holidays?

Mr. Kass' attempt to identify with the suffering proletariat of Chicago rings a little shallow in my book.Here is a guy who has repeatedly praised Bruce Rauner now taking a shot at millionaire Emanuel over a winter sun tan?

Kass is pulling down big bucks and he serves the conservative owners of the Tribune well. By the way Kass moved out of the city years ago even though he makes it sound like he is still living above his father's grocery store on the south side.

PS I was skiing New Mexico for the last week and ate good south western food too. But I have never claimed to be a working class hero. Now I am trying to thaw out my water lines.

Rod Estvan

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