SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has denied that personal friendships are driving his proposal to make the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum a separate state agency.
A House committee on Monday approved the Chicago Democrat’s idea to break the decade-old institution off from the Historic Preservation Agency. The measure moves to the House floor.
Madigan confirmed to reporters after the meeting that he is a friend of library and museum director Eileen Mackevich and her longtime friend Stanley Balzekas, the landlord for Madigan’s state office in Chicago. Balzekas founded and operates the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in the same building.
But Madigan said neither has lobbied him about the change.
Instead, the speaker told the House Executive Committee, “Given the significance of this library and museum to the state of Illinois, it ought to be a free-standing entity operating on its own without being required to operate under jurisdiction of another agency.”
The library and museum and Historic Preservation Agency have been criticized as targets for political patronage under former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
Mackevich told the Chicago Sun-Times that the library and museum would be stronger as a stand-alone agency.
“It’s a good idea if it’s possible and works for everybody,” Mackevich said. “The museum and library are among the gems of the state, intellectually and culturally. And the fact it would be able to be a stand-alone institution would strengthen it.”
She said she has no personality clash with Historic Preservation Agency director Amy Martin. Agency spokesman Chris Wills said the administration is neutral on the proposal.
The change would put the library and museum’s existing advisory board in charge and transfer power to name the executive director from the governor to the board.
Advisory board chairman Steven Beckett, a law professor at the University of Illinois, said the library and museum is hamstrung by the requirement that its decisions be approved by the Historic Preservation Agency.
The bill is HB3836.
Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/index