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10 tips for Stroger on hiring watchdog

Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

As part of his election campaign, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger promised to hire an independent inspector general, someone to investigate corruption in county government without fear or favor.

While he's a bit late in keeping his promise, he's made some promising steps. An independent panel, filled with solid names, has been set up to recommend a new inspector general, to replace the current one, who has deep ties to the Stroger family. The panel was allowed this week to hire its own executive search firm, after some resistance from a Stroger ally on the County Board. The annual salary for the new inspector general has been increased more than 50 percent to $150,000, a move designed to attract talent to the job.

And, most important, the inspector general's staff has been increased to 17 positions, up from five.

So far, the Stroger administration has done well, keeping its hands off matters and letting the independent hiring process take its course. But we'd hate to see Mr. Stroger blow it.

His track record with the public has been less than stellar. In a speech just this week, Chief Financial Officer (and Stroger cousin) Donna Dunnings gave early warning to Cook County residents that the county will be looking for more tax increases soon, mere weeks after the County Board more than doubled its sales tax rate.

Is anybody surprised?

So here's a list of Ten Handy Good Government Hints for Mr. Stroger as he continues the process of hiring a new inspector general. We suggest he tape it to his refrigerator door.

1. Please, don't hire anybody in your family to fill the job.

2. Nope, not even a cousin.

3. A childhood friend? See above.

4. A national search for the new inspector general does mean looking outside your political home base of the 8th Ward.

5. Ask yourself: "What would my political mentor, Bill 'The Hog with the Big Nuts' Beavers, do?" Then do the opposite.

6. Let the inspector hire his or her own staff. Don't view the 12 new jobs as a political dumping ground.

7. Hire someone familiar with corruption. Familiar, that is, with investigating and prosecuting it, not committing it.

8. The new inspector general will not require the services of a private chauffeur, as do some political big shots. Or a private elevator.

9. Do not brag to taxpayers that the new inspector general is coming in at a bargain salary, then give the new hire a double-digit raise within a year. For reference, see the Chicago Sun-Times, March 24, "Todd's Cousin Cashes In."

10. Follow the lead of Mayor Daley. He hired a first-rate inspector general for the city, David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor. Hoffman's smart, independent, experienced and beholden to no one. He drives Daley nuts. But he's a friend to taxpayers.

And what with all the tax increases of late, taxpayers need all the friends they can get.

Maybe, President Stroger, you should hire two.

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