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Editorial: Sheriff offers to serve as suburban inspector general

Monday, July 08, 2013
Chicago Tribune

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is dipping his toe into deep water with his offer to act as inspector general for nearly 130 suburbs.

A quick spin through the Tribune archives turns up dozens of examples of public officials behaving badly in the last decade or so. They sell municipal contracts, or police badges, or liquor licenses. They dip into the village till. They award jobs or contracts to their friends and family. They reward political supporters with big raises. Or they cluelessly sign off on all of the above.

2 plead guilty in selling of park police badges (7/19/01) Ex-Stone Park mayor gets 1 1/2 years (1/12/02) Whether criminal or merely incompetent, those actions come at taxpayers' expense. Stephens' wife gets Rosemont contracts (9/6/01) FBI raids HQ of Harvey police (12/6/08)

Dart's office recently took on the role of inspector general for the village of Dolton after the new mayor took over and found he couldn't make payroll. In a joint statement, Dart and Mayor Riley Rogers blamed the situation on "fraud and corruption," including ghost payrolling, fraudulent expenses and overtime and severance abuses.

Dolton residents who grumble about private cars filling up at the public gas pumps, for example, can now contact the sheriff's public corruption unit by phone or email. They can also download a three-page complaint form from the sheriff's website. And they're eager to do so, judging from the crowd that showed up when the village board met to discuss the idea.

Harvey, Hazel Crest, Riverdale, Robbins, Oak Lawn, Ford Heights and Maywood also have been in contact with the sheriff — some with more enthusiasm than others. Last month, Dart sent a letter to officials in all the Cook County suburbs, offering his services. We hope the good citizens of those cities and villages will encourage their elected officials to sign up. (Hazel Crest residents: We're talking to you.)

Cal City's mayor found guilty of corruption (8/28/01) Ex-cop admits role in mob payoffs (2/13/02)

As inspector general, Dart wouldn't need authorization from local officials to investigate complaints. As with other inspectors general, the office would focus not just on corruption but on waste, fraud and ethical breaches. It would target officials bent on enriching themselves and their friends with public dollars. It would function as a backstop to elected local officials, who may not be professional administrators.

Inspectors general are common throughout state government. In Chicago, an executive inspector general skirmishes frequently with City Hall while a legislative inspector general is kept firmly in check by the City Council. But smaller governments typically fly under the radar unless they attract the attention of the U.S. attorney.

"I firmly believe that local corruption does as much, if not more, damage to individual taxpayers than the big-ticket corruption that we see all too often here in Illinois," Dart said.

Ex-Niles mayor pleads guilty in lengthy kickback scheme (11/2/08) Posen official gets six years in prison for embezzlement (8/3/10)

As it happens, Dart is not Dolton's first inspector general. In 2006, the village hired Robert Shaw — the twin brother of then-Mayor William Shaw — to root out corruption. The ordinance creating the position provided the IG with a $70,000 salary and a village car, and excluded the mayor and trustees from oversight. A Better Government Association spokesman likened the arrangement to "a bad 'Saturday Night Live' skit." Yep.

Lyons mayor appoints his father, a felon, to zoning board (7/18/11) Ex-Berwyn aide guilty of bribery (5/20/06)

In a study last year, former Chicago Ald. Dick Simpson, now a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, documented hundreds of cases of corruption "ranging from officials hiring family members to police chiefs protecting criminals." It itemizes the convictions of more than 100 suburban officials in the last two decades. It calls for a suburban inspector general created by the General Assembly.

That idea has gone nowhere. It's too bad, because ideally the inspector general would be an independent appointee with a dedicated budget, not an elected official squeezing the job out of existing resources. And of course, oversight should be mandatory, not voluntary.

Still, Dart is eager to do a job that desperately needs doing. Good for him. And good for the suburban officials who are getting on board. Suburban taxpayers: If your elected leaders aren't lining up to opt in, you might want to give them a shove. Otherwise, this offer is likely to be rejected by the towns that need it most.



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