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Audits show reporting failures for legislative ethics commission, inspector general

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Wednesday, January 30, 2019  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Sexual Harassment (96) Tracy, Jil--State House, 94
Audits of the state watchdogs that handle complaints of wrongdoing involving lawmakers found reporting failures, but didn't address a nearly two-year vacancy in a key oversight position that wasn't filled until a woman who said she was sexually harassed by a state Senate made her allegations public.

A member the ethics commission and the audits showed minor problems that will be addressed. The woman who went public with her allegations said the audits show a pattern of failures.

The Illinois Auditor General released the compliance audits for the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Legislative Inspector General on Tuesday. The commission oversees the Legislative Inspector General, a part-time position that investigates complaints regarding lawmakers.

The audit findings included failing to file timely employment reports and failing to keep track of office inventory.

Acting Inspector General Julie Porter responded to the audit, noting the long vacancy.

“I was originally brought on in November 2017 as Special Legislative Inspector General to address a case backlog that amassed while there was no Legislative Inspector General, and to handle additional matters as authorized by the Legislative Ethics Commission. On May 30, 2018, the Legislative Ethics Commission appointed me the Acting Legislative Inspector General,” Porter wrote in a letter. “My appointment remains temporary, through the end of February 2019. Because of my special role and the several-year vacancy in the Legislative Inspector General office, I have only limited information available to me.”

Ethics commission member Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said the commission will work to address the findings.

“If you look at any audit of a municipality, of anything, you’re going to find some noncompliance,” Tracy said. “They’re just doing a very thorough job and you learn from it and try not to repeat.”

After an initial review of the findings, Tracy said there’s not much there.

“I don’t see this as significant and causing allegations to not be reported to the commission,” Tracy said. “Certainly people can make more of it, but if there’s more to it then we can act swiftly.”

Commission critic Denise Rotheimer said it’s clear the LIG and the LEC are not following the law.

“There’s noncompliance with the oversight of assets, the safeguarding of assets, and information that is all meant to protect the public’s trust,” Rotheimer said.

Rotheimer, whose complaint in 2016 against a former state Senator sat on a shelf without being addressed because the legislative inspector general position was vacant, said the audits reinforced her contention that the entire process is flawed.

“There was no intention or desire to hold any legislator accountable to the law,” she said.

Porter eventually dismissed Rotheimer’s complaint against former state Sen. Ira Silverstein. Porter was appointed by party leaders to address the two dozen complaints that sat dormant during the vacancy. Rotheimer alleged Silverstein abused his power to make unwanted advances toward her while she was working to get an anti-violence measure passed. Porter said Silverstein’s conduct was unbecoming of a legislator and didn’t offer any sanctions. Silverstein subsequently lost a primary bid.

“Let’s get a permanent, independent, full-time LIG to hold the elected officials accountable to the letter of the law and safeguard our assets,” Rotheimer said.

The first permanent legislative inspector general since 2014 is expected to be approved by the new general assembly. The commission was unanimous in selecting Carol Pope to that position, but the resolution for her appointment has yet to advance.