Editorial: Suburbs need inspector general to root out corruption
Editorials July 1, 2012 10:16PM
Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman and head of UIC's Political Science Deptartment, presented the results of a report detailing corruption in more than 60 Chicago suburb. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times
Updated: August 31, 2012 1:45PM
There was a time when suburban governments were so small that the total cost of corruption — even if they were so inclined — could never add up to much.
But that was long ago. Today, far more people live in suburban Cook and the five collar counties than in Chicago. The aggregate spending by municipalities, park districts, school districts and other local units of government is huge.
All those dollars need watching.
In theory, county, state or federal authorities could investigate suburban shenanigans, but they often have bigger fish to fry. An inspector general specifically assigned to the suburbs, then, might be an excellent idea.
Last week, political scientist and former Chicago Ald. Dick Simpson called for creating just such a suburban inspector general’s office to keep an eye on the about 1,200 governments in the region. Ideally, it would be created by the state Legislature, but individual counties, or even a consortium of suburbs, could do it.
Simpson and his fellow researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago counted 61 suburbs with 130 corruption convictions, but they are certain more corruption has gone undetected and will continue to do so without better oversight.
“Suburban corruption is pretty much ignored around the country, as best as I could tell,” Simpson said.
But it’s important that someone is watching. Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas said recent research by her office shows that together local governments in Cook County have run up $140 billion in debt, including $34 billion in underfunded pension funds. That comes to $36,000 a person in Cook County’s suburbs, Pappas said.
A suburban inspector general could investigate not just corruption but also activities that, while legal, are conflicts of interest or waste tax dollars. The concept is backed by former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard (who does not have authority over local governmental units) and Gov. Pat Quinn.
Simpson estimates the annual cost of the office at $500,000 to $1 million, which he said could easily be dwarfed by the savings to taxpayers through cleaner governments.
These are not your grandparents’ suburban governments. It’s time to put a suburban inspector general to work.