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Audit: 'Confusion' in legislative watchdog's office led to failures

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Friday, September 14, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Auditor General (21) , Legislature (56) , Sexual Harassment (96) Lang, Lou--State House, 16 , McConnaughay, Karen--State Senate, 33
A former member of the commission that oversees allegations of state lawmaker wrongdoing, and the state’s Auditor General, say an employee of the Legislative Inspector General dropped the ball on key issues.

A report from Auditor General Frank Mautino published Thursday of the Legislative Inspector General’s office for fiscal years 2013-2016 found required financial, property and personnel reports were either not filed or filed late.

“Office management indicated these functions were carried out by the Legislative Ethics Commission,” the reports said, “and delays ... were due to oversight and confusion.”

Former commission member and former state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, who served on the commission from early 2015 until she retired from office this summer, said the commission needs to be held accountable to that.

“The people who serve on that commission need to be held accountable to their responsibility to hold the office of the Ethics Commission as well as the Office of the Inspector General accountable frankly to the statutory requirements to public disclosure and process,” McConnaughay said.

But she said it was office Executive Director Randy Erford who failed to tell the commission about 27 allegations of wrongdoing sitting in a drawer, some for up to two years, while there wasn’t a full-blown LIG.

“The fact that we had allegations coming in and were going unanswered, yeah, I was disappointed in that,” McConnaughay said.

Beyond that, McConnaughay said she didn’t want to judge Erford without knowing what standards he was being held to, “which don’t appear to be many,” she said.

“I think that the commission needs to do a [reorganization] of the whole way that office functions … to really restore the trust in people of Illinois and frankly to restore the trust of people who have been victimized,” McConnaughay said.

Messages seeking comment from Erford were not returned. The Executive Director of the Legislative Ethics Commission is a contractual employee who serves on a part-time basis. Erford was paid $37,700 in 2017.

One of those 27 allegations that laid dormant was from victims' rights advocate Denise Rotheimer. She alleged in 2016 that state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, abused his power to make unwanted advances toward her. Acting Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter, who was appointed after Rotheimer made her allegations public, eventually cleared Silverstein of sexual harassment, but found his actions were unbecoming of a legislator.

“Any other process would afford accusers with fairness, rights, participation, notice, representation and a remedy, which are all available exclusively to the accused under the current process,” Rotheimer said in a statement before Illinois' Auditor General Frank Mautino's report was published.

Rotheimer said she wants to have “complaints investigated by an independent investigator, one who will interview all witnesses and consider all the evidence that is substantial rather than ... pick and choose who she will interview in order to create a narrative that fits the will of the accused, regardless if it is false and misleading and in no way seeks to serve as a system of justice.”

Mautino’s report said “periodic evaluations of internal controls are necessary to determine whether existing measures are adequate to safeguard assets, ensure the accuracy and reliability of accounting data, and encourage adherence to legal requirements and prescribed management policy.”

Mautino’s report also found fluctuations of expenditures during the audit years because the LIG’s “caseload and a large investigation required additional court reporting services” for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Expenditure fluctuations for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 were because the LIG was not replaced, “which significantly reduced expenditures associated with the office.”

The office has been the subject of scrutiny since it was revealed last October there had beens a vacancy in the post since July 2014. A temporary LIG that worked part-time only lasted until the end of 2014. The office was vacant until Porter was appointed in November 2017.

Porter said her tenure is up at the end of the year or when lawmakers appoint a permanent LIG.

Women in Springfield have been frustrated with a climate in the capital that they say is hostile to them. A letter from more than 150 statehouse insiders last fall sought to end sexual harassment in the statehouse. 

Porter has received 14 allegations for this calendar year, initiated 13 investigations and concluded one investigation.

A quarterly report was published before accusations of harassment against state Rep. Lou Lang were determined to be unfounded. Porter said the accuser in Lang’s case wasn’t willing to be interviewed. Accuser Maryann Loncar said she didn’t file the complaint in the first place because she didn’t trust the office of the Legislative Inspector General.

Lang was a member of the Ethics Commission until he stepped down from that post following Loncar making her allegations against him public on the last day of Spring session.