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County aims for tougher inspector
Measure for less-partisan watchdog awaits passage

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County will have a more powerful, more independent inspector general able to investigate all corners of county government under an ordinance given preliminary approval Tuesday.
A stronger independent inspector general's office was a campaign pledge of Board President Todd Stroger, whose office claimed a "major win" with the 10-to-4 vote in the board's finance committee. The lopsided vote makes it likely the measure will get final passage from the full board next week.
"It's a milestone in county government, and we'll be able to root out illegal activity wherever it is in county government," Stroger spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said.
The board president now appoints the county inspector general. Stroger's proposal would have a bipartisan county board committee picking from a slate of three candidates chosen by the Chicago and Cook County Bar Associations. An inspector general would serve six years, and a two-thirds vote will be needed to remove an inspector general.
Department heads would have to act on recommended discipline within 30 days or explain why they won't. Without disclosing details of any case, the inspector general would make quarterly reports to the public on how many cases were investigated, what kind of discipline was suggested and whether it was followed.
The inspector general's authority would extend to employees in all county offices, including those of separately elected officials such as the commissioners, the state's attorney and the county clerk.
Commissioners Earlean Collins (D-Chicago), Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood), Deb Sims (D-Chicago) and Robert Steele (D-Chicago) voted against the measure.
Commissioners Bill Beavers (D-Chicago) and Jerry Butler (D-Chicago), who spoke against the measure, left the meeting before the vote.
Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park), who has supported the ordinance in the past, was absent.
Opponents called the measure unneeded "camouflage" that would accomplish little.
Several attempts to weaken or delay the ordinance failed. Commissioners were concerned about giving the inspector general power to investigate other officials -- especially themselves.
"You can be accused of something and by the time you get around to responding, you've already lost the election," Murphy said. "Who protects the elected officials in this type of environment?"
Murphy's proposal to exempt all elected officials from investigation failed, but commissioners did pass an amendment that requires anyone making a complaint against an elected official to certify the complaint under oath. Penalties for lying would include fines of up to $5,000 and six months in jail.


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