Nature channels feature informative and entertaining shows about the survival techniques of animals and other creatures.
Some, like lions and tigers, rely on strength and ferocity; others, like cougars, use stealth to stalk their prey; and a few, like snakes, prevail by quietly blending in with their surroundings—a skill that reminds us of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, or MWRD.
District officials have been masterful at flying under the radar within their natural environment—the state’s political milieu—without drawing much attention or scrutiny.
It’s enabled their bureaucrats and contractors to flourish, but it’s not necessarily good for taxpayers who foot the bill for an agency with about 2,000 employees and an annual budget far north of $1 billion.
So now, in the wake of “the recording,” it’s time for a little sunlight.
MWRD has its own police force, and the BGA recently reported on a district cop who was caught making offensive and revealing remarks over a police radio.
His hand-held device was accidentally keyed “on,” so his conversation with a newly hired officer was recorded over a State Police frequency and subsequently publicized.
He threw around the “n” word in discussing African Americans, used the “c” word for women, bragged about how little work he does—that he and many other employees sleep and drink on the job, and most are connected politically.
The officer is in the process of being fired, but we don’t buy MWRD’s argument that everything else there is just fine.
The recording prompts us to revisit an old efficiency question: Do we need an expensive, stand-alone agency to deal with flooding and water sanitation, or could its operation be folded into an existing department within, say, Cook County government?
- Why does MWRD need nine elected commissioners who are paid at least $70,000 a year for part-times jobs that include staffs, pensions and perks?
- Shouldn’t an internal watchdog—an inspector general—be rooting out waste, mismanagement and corruption; and monitoring the hiring process to ensure that new employees are well-qualified and not political hacks?
MWRD is one of the state’s largest public agencies without an IG, and it’s been unwilling to create one.
A spokeswoman for the district says the IG question was “posed to our external auditor this year,” the “auditor reviewed the checks and balances” and decided “an IG would not be recommended.”
Okay—that’s an auditor’s opinion, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion.
Several years ago the BGA documented exorbitant salaries at MWRD, where the number of six-figure employees more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, and salaries exceeding $200,000 a year more than tripled.
At the same time, taxes to fund the district kept going up.
It’s been a dumping ground for connected workers for years, as the loose-lipped officer candidly admitted.
And speaking of that incident, district officials still haven’t adequately explained how the officer came to be hired, and why they didn’t know he’d been fired from his previous job with the Chicago police.
All of the above confirms the need for a serious conversation about the future of the MWRD, and the hiring of an internal watchdog to keep an eye on an agency that’s been hiding in the grass far too long.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @andyshawbga.