Democrats, Republicans blame each other for vacant watchdog post

The last day on the job for the Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope was Thursday.

The office will be vacant on Friday.

“We have to reeducate ourselves to fight the corruption that exists under the Capitol dome,” Sen. Jil Tracy, a Quincy Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics Commission, said during a news conference Thursday.

Pope, a former prosecutor and appellate court judge, tendered her resignation in July. She called the office a “paper tiger” and blasted lawmakers saying they “demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority.” She originally said her last day would be Dec. 16 but agreed to stay on until the Jan. 6 to allow more time for her position to be filled.

“Confirming a candidate before LIG Pope left has always been my top priority. It is unfortunate that my goal was not shared by some of the Democrat members of the (Legislative Ethics Commission) who did what they could to stall and circumvent the selection process,” Tracy said. “Our search dommittee interviewed multiple candidates and recommended two qualified candidates, and we should have been able to fill this position in a timely manner. But several Democrat members of the LEC did not commit to seeing the process through, and we find ourselves without a qualified LIG to address legislative ethics complaints.”

The search for a new legislative inspector general began after Pope announced her resignation in July. Two candidates were recommended, but the Legislative Ethics Committee made up of four Democrats and four Republics couldn't come to a decision.

Tracy blamed the delay on Democrats. But Rep. Kelly Burke, an Evergreen Park Democrat who chairs the Ethics Committee, disagreed.

“Senator Tracy's claims today are wildly mischaracterizing the situation,” Burke said. “Democrats have sought to advance two candidates for final selection, both of whom have been deemed qualified by the search committee and the LEC. Republicans have blocked that effort, insisting on only advancing their preferred candidate — even though both candidates have worked for former Governor Rauner and have demonstrated nonpartisan, professional expertise. In fact, both are also former federal prosecutors.

“As we've said all along, this should be a straightforward process and we must end the political theater so we can fill this critical position. Senator Tracy is right on one thing: The people of Illinois deserve better.”

During the news conference, Tracy noted a complaint was filed with the legislative inspector general on Dec. 23 but no investigation was started due to Pope's departure.

This has led to renewed calls to give the legislative inspector general expanded powers and making the office more transparent.

Tracy said new legislation, Senate Bill 3030, would:

• Require Legislative Ethics Commission meetings to be open to the public, and have the meetings publicly posted.

• No longer allow elected officials to serve as members of the Legislative Ethics Commission.

• Provide the legislative inspector general with subpoena power to investigate ethics complaints against members of the General Assembly.

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