|Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson|
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 IG, 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 Tollway’s IG, former FBI agent Jim Wagner, also gets high marks.
But his counterparts at Cook County and the Board of Education are so-so.
Then there’s the General Assembly’s outgoing inspector general, Tom Homer, who was so ineffectual he actually looked like an apologist for the lawmakers he was supposed to be keeping in line.
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 offers to 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 unchartered territory, so there’s an element of risk, but his foray is timely because many suburbs have serious corruption issues that aren’t being addressed by their elected officials.
Maywood, where we’ve been uncovering malfeasance for several years, is a prime example.
The near 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 services and empty government coffers.
Last week, we reported a story with FOX 32 that featured video of a Maywood cop allegedly stomping a man during a disturbance call.
The incident was posted on YouTube, but nothing happened until we asked about it, and that’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 IG desperately — a watchdog with a loud bark and sharp teeth, which seems to describe Dart perfectly — so his offer, which the village board grudgingly supports, is welcome.
Dart’s already been recruited to clean up south suburban Dolton, and it may be time to unleash him in several other suburbs that are out of control.
We’ll be watching closely to see how well this works, but we appreciate his willingness to take on a daunting challenge.
Because the Watchdog 101 tenet we referred to has an addendum:
Empowered IGs with integrity are one of our best hopes for cleaning up government offices that need a thorough scrubbing from top to bottom.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or 312-386-9097.