Festivals chief forced to quit in Vanecko murder investigation

July 20, 2011

Megan McDonald, the former overseer of Taste of Chicago and the other city music festivals as executive director of Mayor Daley's Office of Special Events, was forced to quit last spring before being fired for refusing to cooperate in Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigation into the homicide case involving Daley's nephew, R.J. Vanecko, according to the inspector general's latest report.

Yes, this is the same Megan McDonald who wrote an indignant--and sometimes illiterate--diatribe to this blogger last December denying that she was a favorite crony of the Daley family and asserting that her lofty position had nothing to do with her connections. “The notion that I have gotten any job, or stayed in any job because of who I know instead of what I know, is so incredibly insulting,” she wrote.

Rumors have been swirling about McDonald’s failure to cooperate with the Vanecko murder investigation for the last week, but the Sun-Times was first to break the story in this report. Citing Inspector General Ferguson’s latest quarterly report, Fran Spielman writes:

McDonald resigned May 12. That was two weeks after being questioned by Ferguson’s investigators about the police department’s handling of the case involving the death of 21-year-old David Koschman of Mount Prospect after Vanecko punched him in the face during an argument on Division Street in the early-morning hours of April 25, 2004. It was also “days ahead” of the inspector general’s summary report to the newly merged department where she worked. Ferguson left little doubt that he believes McDonald jumped to avoid being pushed.

“If the . . . manager had not resigned, IGO would have recommended that he/she be terminated,” wrote Ferguson, who recommended that McDonald be placed on the city’s “ineligible for hire” list.

McDonald hung up Tuesday when called for comment on the inspector general’s report.

According to a statement to police from a witness, McDonald was near the scene when Koschman was hit and knocked to the street, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in May.

Koschman died of brain injuries 11 days after the confrontation.

But, in another report in the same pages of today's Sun-Times, Carol Marin did succeed in talking to McDonald, who denies that she was present on Rush Street for the fatal altercation, or that she failed to cooperate in the investigation. “I had no clue how my name got brought into this entire situation,” she said. But she does acknowledge being part of what Marin calls "this group of Daley friends."

Those friends also include R.J. Vanecko's brother, Mark Vanecko, who also has been at the center of controversy as the attorney and lobbyist hired by Austin, Texas-based promoters C3 Presents to negotiate Lollapalooza’s long-term, tax- and competition-free deal with the city to bring the giant annual festival to Grant Park.

What might the inspector general find if he begins to look at that deal a little more closely, or if he probes into the Lollapalooza liquor license that went to a firm co-owned by a client of Mark Vanecko who just happens to have numerous underage drinking convictions on his record?

For that matter, the countless stories of patronage, ineptitude, and waste at McDonald's Mayor's Office of Special Events are well worth examining, too, especially as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledges to bring changes to Taste in the wake of this year's big disappointment.

And then there was Daley's bizarre flip-flop on privatizing the fests just before he left office, which some sources say was the result of the Lollapalooza folks not bidding on the project as he'd expected them to.

So little time, so much to investigate.

Earlier reports in this blog about McDonald and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events:

May 13, 2011: Controversial city festivals chief resigns

Jan. 20: Lois Weisberg: "This is one of the worst things that ever has happened to the city."

Jan. 7: Privatizing Taste: What changed for Daley since November?

Dec. 20, 2010: What's really going on at Cultural Affairs, and what happens to arts and music now?

Dec. 16, 2010: Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs is dismantled as 29 are laid off

Dec. 7, 2010: City festivals chief responds to this blog’s reporting on the push for privatization

Dec. 6, 2010: Are a political power struggle and a sweetheart deal fueling the city's push to privatize the summer music festivals?

A few of the earlier reports in this blog about Mark Vanecko and Lollapalooza:

Oct. 4, 2010: Is Chicago earning all that it should from Lollapalooza?

July 13, 2010: Lollapalooza, liquor sales, and the links to the mayor's nephew

June 29, 2010: Analysis: What's behind the Attorney General's investigation of Lollapalooza?