Kadner: An inspector general to prevent scandal
By Phil Kadner email@example.com September 23, 2013 9:46PM
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart | Sun-Times Media Library
Updated: October 25, 2013 6:17AM
Richton Park Mayor Richard “Rick” Reinbold wants Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to send an inspector general to his village.
“There’s nothing wrong,” Reinbold said. “There’s no scandal going on, like there has been in some other places where the sheriff has come out.
“We just think it’s a good idea to have someone people can go to if they have a complaint or think something might be wrong.
“It’s just a preventative measure.”
Earlier this year, I wrote about Dart’s decision to create an office of inspector general in the sheriff’s department to assist Cook County suburbs.
Dolton, where a new village administration suspected possible wrongdoing by previous office holders, was the first community to use the services of the inspector general.
I wrote at the time that many suburban elected officials are ill-equipped to monitor multi-million dollar budgets and oversee professional staffs that actually run the day-to-day operations of most suburbs.
Dart’s idea, in part, was to create a law enforcement agency that detected wrongdoing before it rose to the level of a federal grand jury investigation.
In addition, Dart recognized that many suburban scandals are caused not by people with criminal intent, but due to incompetence.
None of that applies to Richton Park, however, where Reinbold is merely interested in assuring residents they have a good, honest government.
“There were some people on the village board who, when I first brought this up, wondered if it would send a signal to people that there might be something wrong here,” Reinbold said.
“That’s a legitimate concern. I don’t want to raise unnecessary suspicions. But I think it’s far more important for us to make sure our residents are protected now and in the future than to worry about what the perception might be.
“You know, there are just a lot of people skeptical today about government. They believe everyone’s a crook and I understand why they might hold that view.
“I want to reassure them there are many of us trying to do the best job possible and we have no fear of someone looking over our shoulder to make sure we’re doing it right.
“I’m also concerned that there might be an employee of ours, now or in the future, who would see us doing something wrong and fail to report it because they’re worried about repercussions at work.
“I’ve talked to people about the Whistle Blower Act and how it protects them, but people are understandably fearful sometimes of reporting something to their bosses. They worry, maybe needlessly, that they could lose their jobs or be punished.
“The same sort of thing with residents. The public may see someone in government doing something wrong, but be reluctant to call the mayor or police chief out of fear of retaliation.
“I want to give those people the option of calling an outside agency, the inspector general.
“If there is something wrong, I want to find it so it doesn’t develop into a bigger problem. If there isn’t anything wrong, I want people to have their concerns addressed and their minds put at ease.”
How much is this going to cost Richton Park?
“The price was right,” Reinbold said. “It’s free. We would sign a two-year agreement and if it’s not working out, we would cancel it at the end of that time.”
The Richton Park village board had scheduled a vote on an ordinance creating the office of inspector general Monday night.
“I think it’s going to pass, maybe unanimously,” Reinbold told me when we spoke Monday afternoon.
When I called the sheriff’s office to get a comment about Richton Park’s efforts, I was told that Country Club Hills also had contacted Dart’s office about using the inspector general.
In July, the Country Club Hills City Council passed an ordinance giving the Cook County sheriff the authority to become the inspector general in that suburb.
“I just think it’s a great idea,” Mayor Dwight Welch said. “It’s a great service and I think Sheriff Dart is doing a terrific job.”
When I suggested that some folks, particularly in the news media, might be surprised that Welch would invite an inspector general into his city, the mayor wondered what I meant.
Well, I said, there are some folks who view him as a sort of “shady” character.
“I have never done anything illegal,” Welch shot back. “We had a forensic audit of our books and nothing improper was found. People are always making allegations about me but they’re always proven false.
“My suburb is doing better financially than any other east of I-57 and I resent being called what you said. It’s an insult to be called shady.”
Perhaps I used the wrong word. But there have been a number of news stories over the years calling into question Welch’s style of governing.
If he’s now willing to have an inspector general come into his city and investigate allegations of wrongdoing by his critics, I think that’s commendable.
As I told Reinbold, even if he and his village board are doing everything right now, there’s no guarantee that future village boards would be as honest.
Setting a precedent, creating the office of inspector general to protect the interests of the public, would be a great legacy to leave residents of any suburb.
Even honest village officials can miss something, since in most of the suburbs they are part-time public servants and spend their work days earning a living for their families.
“We’re doing this for all the right reasons,” said Reinbold, who has been mayor for more than 12 years.
“It’s all about transparency. If you’re a resident or a business owner, if there’s anything you feel we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing, you should have an option to improve it.
“People may be skeptical about government, but it’s our duty to restore their confidence.”