Seal the Deal for an Inspector General for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

The BGA's Policy Team urges the Cook County board to approve an intergovernmental agreement to provide oversight of the agency that cleans our wastewater.

There’s only one box left to check to bring independent oversight to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for the first time in its history. 

On Thursday, commissioners unanimously approved two measures that would assign that role to Cook County’s Inspector General. It’s now up to the Cook County board to approve the plan. That vote should be speedy and unanimous.

The intergovernmental agreement would span three years, at a cost to the wastewater management district of $600,000 a year. That’s a smart investment that shows the MWRD is finally serious about accountability. 

It’s also a bargain. It allows the MWRD to share resources with the county instead of duplicating expenses by setting up a separate IG’s office. And it lets the district take advantage of the experience and expertise already in place at the county. 

It took nearly two years of study and negotiation for the MWRD board to get to this point. Along the way, some commissioners suffered periodic bouts of cold feet. An inspector general might ask questions about why WMRD employees have some of the highest average salaries among public agencies in Illinois, for example. Or why the district spent millions on a dispute over who gets to use an alley outside its offices. 

That kind of scrutiny will take getting used to. From a taxpayer perspective, it’s indispensable. 

An inspector general is often viewed as a corruption buster, and yes, investigating ethical breaches and other misconduct is an important part of the job. But an IG can also help improve operations and save taxpayers millions of dollars by identifying missed revenue or potential savings. An agency the size of MWRD -- with 2,000 employees and a budget of more than $1.2 billion -- needs the sort of thorough and independent audits an IG can provide. 

Let’s get started. Over to you, Cook County commissioners.