Water district board member facing ethics violation at Cook County job
The director of community affairs at Cook County Health, who is also an elected board member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, is facing potential suspension from his county job after an investigation determined he violated ethics ordinances by performing his elected duties on county time and property.
Marcelino Garcia, who is paid about $150,000 annually for his county job and $70,000 a year for his elected position, did not return emails seeking comment.
A Democrat, Garcia was first elected to the water district board in 2018. He is the board's finance committee chairman.
County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard did not name the employee in a report issued Thursday, but Garcia is the only Cook County Health employee who is a water district board member.
The report from Blanchard's office recommended Garcia be suspended "consistent with other disciplinary cases of similar nature" for violating the code of ethics. Blanchard's office does not make suggestions for the length of suspensions.
"Because the subject employee holds a management level position, the employee should reasonably be expected to fully appreciate prohibited conduct in the course of the employee's duties," the report stated.
Officials at the inspector general's office said they are unaware of any disciplinary action taken in the case.
"Cook County Health takes these allegations seriously and will conduct a thorough investigation," said Jeff McCutchan, chief counsel for the county hospital and health care system. He declined to comment further.
The investigation began when Garcia was noticed participating in the water district's board meeting Oct. 1 from inside his county office, according to the report. An investigator with the inspector general's office went to Garcia's office and "confirmed his presence" in the county office while the water district board meeting was being conducted. The report describes an office with "birthday balloons and various flags" that matches Garcia's surroundings shown during videos of the meeting.
The inspector general's report notes that investigators watched all 2020 videos of the water district's board meetings, which are on the MWRD website, and found Garcia "using his CCH office on numerous occasions to remotely attend 2020 MWRD Board of Commissioners meetings between January and December."
Kari Steele, president of the water district's board, said she was unaware of the inspector general's report and called Garcia a "respected" member of the board "who consistently brings forth issues that promote discussion during board meetings."
Board meetings at the water district generally run about two hours, though they can run as long as four hours, Steele said. The board meets twice monthly.
The board has been holding virtual meetings since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regularly seen in most 2020 board meeting recordings, the last time Garcia could be seen on video was the Feb. 4 meeting with a plain wooden door as a background.