Thursday, July 06, 2006

Headlines are good

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Thursday afternoon that the recent headlines about investigations into state hiring practices are a good thing. “I think the headlines are great,” he said after cutting the ribbon of the new, $50-million World Shooting & Recreation complex in rural Sparta (more on this later). “I think what they suggest is that this is an administration that doesn’t tolerate wrongdoing. That it is, in fact, a different day in state government, that we have an inspector general that we created that didn’t exist before I was governor.”

In 2003, Blagojevich signed a measure creating an independent, nonpartisan inspector general for each constitutional officer, minus the lieutenant governor. The IG is intended to investigate whether employees or state contractors are violating ethics laws or involved in improper campaign financing, said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. The IG would file complaints, investigate and recommend action against the violating employee or contractor. The more severe violations would be referred to the attorney general, then to an ethics commission for review.

What the law didn’t do was allow the IGs to tell anyone what they were investigating, nor did it require their reports to be public documents. Morrison said the Campaign for Political Reform argued there ought to be detailed, public reports when the inspectors figured out something was wrong. “We got shot down,” he said. “They were concerned about employees’ privacy rights. They didn’t want false complaints or complaints that didn’t amount to anything to become a public blemish to anyone.”

So far, Morrison said he knows of more than 3,300 complaints filed by the governor’s IG. (Some context: The governor’s office employs more than 57,000 people.) Morrison said of those 3,300 complaints, about 1,000 have been investigated, 700 have been closed and only one has been referred to the attorney general’s office. “There’s a whole lot going on," Morrison said. "We’re just not ever going to see it the way it’s structured now, unless it’s leaked.”

Disclosing the reports, he said, could let the public know whether the inspector generals are doing their jobs or whether they’re dismissing some complaints for legitimate reasons. He added more disclosure could spell out what behavior is OK and what behavior is not, reaffirming what good government looks like. “We have no reason to think that what they’re doing is inherently wrong,” he said, “but we have no reason to think what they’re doing is right.”

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