Kadner: This fight needs soldiers, not an inspector general
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 June 27, 2012 7:44PM
Updated: July 29, 2012 5:07PM
A guy knocked on the door of my house the other night and made a sales pitch.
“You got problems,” he tells me.
I’m thinking the guy wants to patch my roof, pave my driveway or paint the house.
But he’s thinking much bigger.
“You got corruption,” he says. “It’s bad and it’s spreading. Sure you got police, local, state and federal, and you got prosecutors, like the Cook County state’s attorney, Illinois attorney general and U.S. attorney.
“But it ain’t enough. They got other fish to fry. No one cares about corruption festering like a cancer in your little burg.
“I mean you got your gang shootings in Chicago, big-name crooks in the city council and sitting in Springfield, organized crime types, international dope dealers and pedophiles.
“Those big-shot prosecutors don’t care if village officials are selling free drink passes underneath the table during the fall festival.
“What you need,” the salesman told me, “is an inspector general.”
This inspector general would be like one of those handymen who comes through the suburbs fixing anything that’s broken, only this guy would be a lawyer.
“For about $500,000 a year, he’ll clean up your mess,” the salesman says.
I told the salesman I didn’t have $500,000 lying around the house.
“No problem. The way this works is that all the suburban residents in the Chicago area pitch in and give the guy a few bucks, and he offers you protection. You’re going to say you don’t need any protection. That’s why you live in the suburbs, where it’s safe.
“But it ain’t safe. There are mayors stealing tax dollars. Park board members who don’t run any park district programs. School officials who are robbing you blind.
“Even police chiefs in the suburbs have gone to prison because, well, it’s sad to say, but some of them are crooks.”
The salesman handed me a stack of research papers put together by professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago about all the crooked public officials in the suburbs over the past 30 years or so.
“I’m selling peace of mind,” the salesman tells me. “It’s like life insurance or car insurance. You hope it’s never needed, but it’s good to know it’s there if your public officials decide they want to slip you some contaminated drinking water. That’s on page 25, under Crestwood.”
I told the fellow I was well aware of corruption in the suburbs and had even tried to treat it myself.
“You need an expert,” he said.
That’s what I once thought. Several years back, I began a crusade to get the attorney general to create the office of public information officer — a lawyer who would be an advocate for the people when they couldn’t get access to public documents or when public officials held secret meetings.
“How’d that work out for ya?” the salesman asked.
Well, the position was created. A lawyer was put in charge. And I told everyone that the people would have their own government lawyer, a person who would fight corruption, take their phone calls and battle for them in the courts.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” the salesman said.
But it turned out there were so many phone calls that the public access counselor couldn’t handle them all. She didn’t have enough staff to look into every complaint. She stopped answering her phone when people called and had staff do it instead.
And they told people to send emails when they had a problem. But many people just never made a call or sent an email. Some couldn’t even find the phone number when they wanted to call.
And while it was better than nothing, that lawyer for the people of the state wasn’t the thing that I thought it would be.
It became another government bureaucracy bogged down in paperwork. It did some good. But not as much as taxpayers might have hoped.
“And that’s why you need an inspector general,” the salesman said with delight.
I told the man that one inspector general wouldn’t even be enough to keep an eye on Harvey. That the guy would end up getting thousands of phone calls from political mavericks and obsessed taxpayers who just wanted to harass some public official they didn’t like.
And there would be thousands of other valid complaints that would take a staff of 200 to investigate fully.
An inspector general would be no good without an army. He needs soldiers to do the leg work. And that would mean much more tax money for the office, unless citizens were willing to do it for free.
But I’m curious, I said to the salesman. Who do you have in mind for that inspector general’s job?