Andy Shaw is president and chief executive officer of the Better Government Association.
Updated: August 19, 2013 2:14PM
Here’s a basic tenet from Watchdog 101 — the office of inspector general is one of government’s best anti-corruption tools, but only if it has authority, resources, independence and integrity.
And those are big ifs.
For instance, Chicago’s inspector general, Joe Ferguson, is considered the gold standard, unless you work in the mayor’s office at city hall.
Ferguson aggressively pursues traditional misconduct by city workers — knucklehead stuff like employees living outside the city, stealing supplies or doing political work on city time.
But he also vets the Emanuel administration’s programs, policies and contracts — often to the mayor’s chagrin — which creates a tension that’s healthy, albeit uncomfortable.
The Illinois Toll Highway Authority’s inspector general, former FBI agent Jim Wagner, also gets high marks. But his counterparts at Cook County and the Chicago Board of Education are so-so.
Then there’s the General Assembly’s outgoing inspector general, Tom Homer, who was so ineffectual that he actually looked like an apologist for the lawmakers whom he was supposed to be checking on.
And even worse, we’re looking at one community where the IG was allegedly collecting full-time pay for part-time work.
That watchdog needed watching.
These mixed reviews come to mind as Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has offered to have his department serve as an inspector general in Maywood and other suburbs that need an internal watchdog but, for lack of money or motivation, don’t have one.
Dart is traversing uncharted territory with his proposal so there’s an element of risk, but his foray is timely because many suburbs have serious corruption issues that either involve elected officials or aren’t being addressed by them.
Maywood, where the Better Government Association has been uncovering malfeasance for several years, is a prime example.
The west suburb was controlled until recently by the Yarbroughs — Karen, a former state representative who is now Cook County’s recorder of deeds, and her husband, Henderson, Maywood’s ex-mayor.
The remnants of their reign include vacant storefronts, violent streets, high taxes, poor public services and an all-but-empty village treasury.
The BGA recently reported a story with Fox 32 News that featured video of a Maywood police officer apparently stomping a man during a disturbance call. The incident was posted on YouTube, but nothing happened until we asked about it.
It’s just the latest stain on a police department where an officer was charged with rape while on duty; the deputy police chief resigned after pleading guilty to a felony; the murder of a Maywood cop was never solved; and the just-departed police chief, who presided over this mess, was a Yarbrough donor and political worker.
Maywood needs an inspector general desperately — a watchdog with a loud bark and sharp teeth, which seems to describe Dart — so the sheriff’s offer, which the village board grudgingly supports, is welcome.
Dart’s office already has been recruited by the new mayors of Dolton and Hazel Crest to look into apparent overspending and misspending, and possible corruption, by the prior administrations. And it may be time to unleash sheriff’s investigators in several other suburbs that are out of control.
We at the BGA will be watching closely to see how well this works, but we appreciate Dart’s willingness to take on a daunting challenge.
Because the Watchdog 101 tenet we referred to above has an addendum — empowered IGs with integrity are one of the public’s best hopes for cleaning up government offices that need a thorough scrubbing from top to bottom.
Andy Shaw is president and chief executive of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 386-9097.