Illinois legislative inspector general leaves role months after warning lawmakers of resignation
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois is now without a top watchdog for corruption.
Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope told state lawmakers in July that she would resign at the end of 2021. She later pushed back her exit date, hoping to help a successor transition into the role. However, lawmakers never found a replacement.
The state went four years without a legislative inspector general before Pope took over the office in early 2019. Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) says that cannot happen again as complaints against lawmakers would go unaddressed.
Two candidates interviewed for the role before a citizen review board in October. Tracy said Thursday that Democratic members didn’t like the candidates.
“It’s just troubling that the Democrat’s majority doesn’t seem to want that. They want to appoint their own,” Tracy said. “They want to just overlook a public advisory group’s recommendations that’s in place to be the impartial eyes of the public.”
Pope also received a new complaint on Dec. 23, but she didn’t want to open an investigation as she would be leaving the post soon.
While Tracy chairs the Legislative Ethics Commission, Democratic members don’t agree with her assessment of the current situation. Sen. Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) said she is disappointed by what she believes is an attempt by Tracy to politicize the appointment process.
“The fact is the Ethics Commission has been prepared to send names to the General Assembly but Senator Tracy and other Republicans blocked those votes,” Castro said. “If not for those actions, we could have had a new inspector general in place.”
Meanwhile, Tracy has introduced a proposal to strengthen the LIG’s office with subpoena authority for investigations. It could also block lawmakers from serving as members of the Legislative Ethics Commission and allow more access for the public and journalists with LEC meeting minutes.
Those were all suggestions to members of the Joint Committee on Ethics and Lobbying during several hearings in 2020. While state lawmakers introduced and passed a major ethics reform plan last year, many feel it fell short in addressing the true problems under the dome in Springfield.
Pope noted in her July resignation letter that lawmakers did nothing to help her with investigations during the 2020 legislative session.
“This last legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority,” Pope said. “The LIG has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations. The position is essentially a paper tiger.”
Tracy is worried the LIG’s office will remain vacant while lawmakers work remotely due to the continued spread of COVID-19. She had hoped Senate President Don Harmon would allow members to discuss the issue during the one-day session Wednesday since members don’t plan to return this month.
“I don’t even have a method in place to give a recommendation for appointment,” Tracy said. “So, it’s a terrible disservice to the public from this situation that we’re finding ourselves in.”
She said Senate and House Republicans will continue to push for a LIG appointment until it happens.
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