Water district candidates weigh in on inspector general position
For Democrat candidates, the question isn't whether the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District should have an inspector general to watch over its operations.
Rather, the difference among four candidates vying for three six-year terms in the Democratic primary election is whether there may be some ongoing problems for an inspector general to investigate.
The agency, which has a nearly $1.2 billion budget and about 2,000 employees, is tasked with wastewater treatment and flood control in the Chicago area.
At times, it has come under criticism for various reasons. The children of two board commissioners have jobs there. A former cop with the agency was recorded over police radio talking about sleeping and drinking on the job and questionable hiring practices, according to the Better Government Association. Most recently, the Illinois Green Party found that $722 million in contracts over the last five years went to companies that donated over $400,000 in campaign cash to commissioners.
"It is quite amazing that in this day and age, this governmental body doesn't have an independent entity to detect, deter and prevent corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, unlawful political discrimination and misconduct," Marcelino Garcia said in response to a question about creating an inspector general's office.
Later, he referenced the police officer's comments and said "conduct like that may still be going on and we do not know about it."
But the three incumbents seeking re-election -- Martin Durkan, Debra Shore and Kari Steele -- characterized creating an inspector general position as a proactive move, not a reaction to past scandals or any present corruption. The district has budgeted $600,000 to fund an inspector general, but commissioners haven't created the position.
"I am in support of an inspector general not because I believe there is some corruption or waste that needs immediate attention at the MWRD," Durkan said. "An organization our size needs an inspector general to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery."
Shore said she's been pushing to create the position for several years.
"Unlike what happened at Metra some years ago, I hope the board at MWRD will support establishing an inspector general not in the wake of scandal, but because it's simply good practice."
Metra implemented an inspector general's office after its executive director was found to have taken $475,000 in unauthorized payments.
Steele also supports creating the position but said the district has safeguards in place already.
"The MWRD has a process in place for oversight protocol, and I support improving oversight and ethics monitoring," Steele said. "To date, there are no specific areas or practices that have given concern that the board has not addressed."
The primary election is March 20.