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EDITORIAL: Don’t bungle MWRD’s plan for an independent inspector general

Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is well acquainted with construction projects that drag on for decades, like the 47-year-old Deep Tunnel.

Maybe that’s why some MWRD commissioners think it’s just fine to drag out for years the business of appointing an inspector general. Or maybe they just fear a snoopy IG.

But it can happen right now. There’s a smart plan on the table. And it should happen.

For two years, the MWRD has been working on a plan to have Cook County’s inspector general, Patrick M. Blanchard, take over as the water agency’s inspector general as well. It’s a perfect example of better government. The MWRD would be sharing resources, tapping into existing expertise, and getting off to a quick start. There would be no need to create a whole new office.


But now that an intergovernmental agreement has been drafted and money has been allocated in the MWRD’s budget, some commissioners are trying to stall the process.

No thanks.

Or as Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, put it: “Delay is not the taxpayer’s friend.”

At the MWRD’s Feb. 7 meeting, Vice President Barbara McGowan called for shelving the plan to bring in the Cook County inspector general. Instead, she suggested that the MWRD put out a “request for proposal” to hire its own inspector general.

That’s a bad idea for several reasons.

First, an IG hired by the MWRD wouldn’t have subpoena power, which is critical to effective investigations, unless the state Legislature granted it. Second, hiring an IG in this way would take many more months, if not years. Third, the request-for-proposal process would give the MWRD staff too much influence in choosing the IG.

There’s no reason Cook County and the MWRD should not share the services of a single inspector general. It’s something that’s done. The City of Chicago shares an IG with the Public Building Commission. Cook County shares an IG with the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

And Cook County and the MWRD share almost identical borders.

You could be forgiven for suspecting this last-minute delay is driven by a fear of what an independent inspector might find in an agency that has an annual budget of more than $1 billion. That’s certainly our own suspicion.

But even if some commissioners truly believe for the best of reasons that it would be wiser for the MWRD to hire its own IG, that’s no reason to block the current plan. The MWRD could hire Blanchard for now, while working out the details of hiring an IG of its own.

The proposal to hire Blanchard is not on the agency’s board agenda for Thursday. But it could be on the board agenda as early as next month.

When it is, commissioners, vote for it.

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