Joliet has new plan for inspector general

The devil may be in the details

Who gets to be Joliet’s next inspector general?

It’s an important, even potentially explosive, position, because the inspector general has the authority to investigate city officials, including City Council members, but with the apparent exception of the mayor, since the inspector general serves under the mayor, according to the Joliet ordinance.

When Joliet created the position in 2016, there were those who questioned whether an inspector general would be a watchdog for the city or an attack dog for the mayor.

Chris Regis was hired for the job in 2016, and in a few months delivered a report on Evergreen Terrace, suggesting very strongly that wrongdoing was done in the city’s payment of legal fees in the long-and-winding case that led to Joliet’s successful condemnation and takeover of the housing complex.

Despite suggestions of referrals for criminal investigation, nothing else came from the report aside from outrage from the private lawyer who handled the case and accused Regis and Mayor Bob O’Dekirk of having “a petty political agenda.”

It was the only public inspector general report issued by Regis, which is not to say he may not have been involved in other projects not made public. But Regis has been more prominent in his other role as assistant city attorney, handling some of the city’s highest-profile legal work, including the NorthPoint and Houbolt Road bridge projects.

The Evergreen Terrace report showed the kind of fiery stuff that can come with the inspector general job.

The city this year plans to hire an outside law firm to do inspector general work.

Regis now has a new position as deputy corporate counsel and no longer has the dual title of inspector general.

It will be interesting to see who gets the inspector general contract and how it is awarded.

It’s not unusual for the city to hire law firms for the purpose of doing an outside examination on how questionable matters were handled. Outside firms were hired to look into the police department’s handling of the Eric Lurry case. And an outside firm was hired to review ethics complaints filed by the police sergeant accused by the mayor of being inebriated while on duty at the Fiesta en la Calle in 2019.

Will the city hire a law firm that specializes in handling matters of government ethics and official misconduct to serve in the role as inspector general?

Will Joliet hire a firm or lawyer without a track record in such work but with ties to City Hall?

And who will have the say-so in who gets the inspector general contract?

The hiring of the next inspector general could instill trust. It would be ironic if it arouses suspicion on how city government operates.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News