April 26, 2019

Why You Sent Me

Perhaps you’ve read over the past few years in my annual reports or occasional newsletters of my efforts to promote the establishment of an independent inspector general (IG) at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District? I sought to do this because any agency with a billion-dollar annual budget deserves independent oversight: it’s considered best practice in good governance.

Happily, I can report that a week ago, the Board of Commissioners of the MWRD unanimously approved a measure to enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Cook County to extend oversight from Cook County’s Office of the Independent Inspector General to MWRD. Our Board felt that this model of shared resources is an example of 21st century governance. Engaging Cook County’s IG to provide oversight may give MWRD access to more resources for less money and a quicker start—and we still reserve the option to establish our own separate IG if we find the shared model doesn’t suit us.

Yesterday, the Cook County Board acted and approved by acclamation an amendment to the Cook County inspector general ordinance and the IGA with MWRD. Together, these actions of the two Boards of Commissioners bring an independent inspector general to MWRD.

Much attention is often focused on IGs’ investigations of waste, fraud, and abuse. However, I suspect the signal value to MWRD in years to come will be the IG’s independent and professional reviews of programs and practices, which will likely save money and demonstrate ways to serve the public more efficiently and swiftly. That’s my hope.

Although voters and observers are often cynical about politics and government in Chicago and Cook County, these votes—unanimous by both MWRD and the Cook County Boards—demonstrate that a certain amount of optimism about our political system is justified. Thanks go to all the members of both Boards of Commissioners. Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin deserves special thanks for his work on this measure on the Cook County Board. On the MWRD Board, special thanks go to former Commissioner David Walsh and Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, both of whose work on this issue was crucial over the months and years it took to bring this measure to fruition. It is worth pointing out that my fellow commissioners on the MWRD Board did not make any effort to exempt themselves or their staffs from the oversight of the inspector general, or to limit the resources available to his office, as have members of other legislative bodies. In that sense, the voters and taxpayers of Cook County can be proud of the MWRD commissioners they have elected, just as I am proud to serve with them.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is an agency with a long and proud history. The vote by the MWRD Board of Commissioners last week, and the corresponding vote by the Cook County Board of Commissioners yesterday morning, will become new high points in that history.