Board Votes Unanimously to Bring in Office of Independent Inspector General

By Michael Romain

TUESDAY, MAYWOOD — The ordinance to establish an office of independent inspector general (OIG) in Maywood was passed unanimously in an omnibus agenda at the July 16th board meeting. The measure was nondescript–merely item ‘K’ among seventeen other items for consideration, including a range of payments to contractors, a proposal from a contractor for water leak detection services and a “Brokers representation agreement for sale of certain surplus property.” Maywood joins Dolton as one of the first Cook County suburbs to experiment with the new OIG service. Advocates believe it will be a useful tool for fighting widespread suburban corruption, much of which may be going unnoticed due to lack of institutional oversight.

The rather placid omnibus vote stood in stark relief to the OIG’s somewhat controversial introduction more than two weeks ago by Mayor Perkins, who had placed it on the July 2nd board meeting agenda apparently without notifying the trustees ahead of its inclusion. The Mayor said that she’d introduced the ordinance on behalf of a group of citizens who’d brought it to her. She also noted that it was legally within her power to place the item on the agenda without it first going up for discussion in an Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting.

The trustees, while generally supportive of the measure, indicated that they would nonetheless want to discuss it at an LLOC meeting. “I’d mentioned to the village manager that, to me, this is a good deal […] but normally we have a discussion period where we’d be able to ask you questions, but we just found out that it was on the agenda […] normally at an LLOC, we chew on things,” said Trustee Ron Rivers. Trustee Audrey Jaycox explained that her reasoning for delaying a vote on the ordinance was “because usually we try to contact the other communities to see what their issues are and to see what their concerns are.”

The delay by the board in approving the ordinance when Mayor Perkins introduced it caused some consternation among residents during the public comment portion of the July 10th LLOC meeting, where the matter was brought up for further deliberation.”I’m trying to figure out why there would even be a question why we should invite the Cook County sheriff into town,” said Heather Stelnicki.

The Board may have helped to arouse this chorus of frustration in some of their reasons for delaying the July 2nd vote, an action which was not unreasonable in and of itself. For instance, Trustee Jaycox, making about-face to the concerns she mentioned on July 2nd, said at a later date that she and her fellow trustees were not at all “blindsided” by the ordinance inclusion in the agenda. In fact, she noted, they were informed of the item at least one week in advance of the July 2nd meeting, thereby betraying the possibility that they had ample time to evaluate the OIG matter and begging the question of why due diligence could not be done in the week leading up to the vote.

At the July 10th LLOC meeting, Trustee Dorris made a vague request to Cara Smith, Sheriff Tom Dart’s chief of policy, for data that “would be proof of whether or not this is effective.” But the OIG ordinance’s effectiveness can’t be sufficiently demonstrated by data (which, in any event, wouldn’t be available at such a nascent stage in the measure’s existence); rather, the test of its effectiveness is demonstrated by more intangible factors, such as whether or not its inclusion in the Village’s oversight process presents a suitable deterrent to corruption and whether its presence helps to restore citizens’ trust and confidence in their local government.

In another instance, Ms. Jaycox said that it appeared that the suburban OIG’s were only setting up in “highly populated minority areas,” an issue that had no immediate relevance to the vetting process, since the OIG’s are only established in communities where they’ve been invited. Moreover, the sheriff’s office sent out letters announcing its newfound OIG services to all Cook County suburbs, indiscriminate of their demographic compositions, racial or otherwise. That the OIGs (in the outset at least) have been established almost exclusively in minority communities is either coincidence or the symptom of a much larger societal problem that won’t be justly explored in the setting of an LLOC or village board meeting.

The most pointed concerns about the proposal were, for the most part, procedural and they were discussed at length by attorney Michael Jurusik and Village manager Bill Barlow. If anything, the board’s delay shored up time for the two men to deliberate on, and attend to, the technical complications that might arise with implementing the ordinance. Mr. Barlow explained in print that,

“The one reservation I have is in relation to the role of internal affair [sic] investigations by the Police Department management of officer conduct. I believe that it is essential from a general responsibility standpoint and from credibility that the Village should reserve the ability to conduct internal affairs investigations of police officer conduct. I am also concerned about the timing implications for investigations of police officers (since we cannot be certain how long the County’s investigation will take) in relation to limits on such investigations in the rules and regulations of the Department and union contracts.”

He suggested that the OIG office only “conduct internal affairs investigations” of Village police officers “in the event that the complaining party is not satisfied with the results of the Police Department’s investigation” and refers the matter to the sheriff’s department.

Mr. Jurusik elaborated on his proposed changes at the July 16th board meeting after some residents complained that he hadn’t publicly presented the modifications he’d made with the sheriff’s office, as he said he would. At the July 10th LLOC, Mr. Jurusik said that the ordinance, as originally written, needed “a little tweaking,” before agreeing to meet with Ms. Smith to draft a revised version that would address his concerns. These revisions he agreed should be made public and encouraged anyone who wanted to see a redlined version of the ordinance to request it from the clerk’s office.

Mr. Jurusik pointed out, line-by-line, the revisions he made in collaboration with the sheriff’s department. Notably, the revised ordinance designates that the OIG “shall serve for an initial term of two (2) years and may be reappointed thereafter for successive two (2) year terms.” Mr. Jurusik revised the initial term to one year and for the board review process to occur on a “year-to-year” basis to accommodate for any outside costs it would incur due to the Village’s cooperation with the OIG.

Mr. Jurusik also revised page 3, section 4 of the original draft, which states that the OIG shall have the power and authority “to receive and register complaints concerning Misconduct in the operation of Village government, including but not limited to Misconduct of contractors, vendors, and professional service providers who furnish goods and services to the Village.”

“I wanted to make sure that the sheriff and Village cooperate with different investigations,” he said. “The sheriff may investigate something that doesn’t rise to the level where it’s a criminal act, but it may rise to the level where Village employees need to be disciplined.”

He explained that he wanted to ensure that the separate investigative authority of the OIG office did not clash with the Village’s disciplinary authority, which is often subject to collective bargaining complications. For instance, union employees are entitled to due process before any disciplinary action is taken. Mr. Jurusik brought up the case of former Deputy Police Chief Brian Black, who recently pled guilty to obstruction of justice. The Village elected to place Mr. Black on paid suspension until the matter was resolved in court, “because if he was innocent, he would’ve been entitled to backpay.” VFP

The next article in this series on the new OIG ordinance will answer some FAQ’s and discuss the proposal’s origins. 

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