Hot Issue

Changing the Culture of Sexual Harassment in State Government - HB 4840

It is nearly impossible to hold Illinois state government accountable, but each year thousands of citizens try to by filing complaints with the Office of Executive Inspector General (OEIG). It is the one tool available to all that allows someone who sees wrongdoing by government officials to let others in power know about it.  Unfortunately, very few complaints are investigated and most are never recognized with more than an acknowledgement of receipt of the complaint. 

The 2017 OEIG statistics are alarming in the number of unanswered inquiries.  Of the 2,632 complaints filed with the OEIG in 2017, 98 were investigated, 106 remain open, 29 complaints had findings and only 25 of those findings were disclosed to the public, a figure of less than 1 percent of those filed.

The OEIG is an independent branch of the state government with broad authority to investigate allegations of misconduct on over 170,000 employees, appointees, and other officials in over 300 state agencies, boards, and commissions.  The Inspector General is the citizens’ watchdog. For most, the act of filing an official OEIG complaint is their only recourse to report malfeasance by public officials without jeopardizing their own job or having to invest their own resources to fight what they perceive as government mismanagement or corruption.  But for 2017, complainants of 2,607 official complaints have no idea where their case stands.  

In Illinois complainants have no rights of notification, information or participation in the OEIG process. In fact, complainants to any state inspector general, including agency specific inspector generals and the recent headline-making Legislative Inspector General, have no rights at all even when filing very personal complaints dealing with sexual harassment.  Those seeking transparency and relief from bureaucracy instead receive secrecy and more bureaucracy.  

While the #MeToo movement was making its way from Hollywood to the nation’s capital, Illinois was confronted by the movement after Denise Rotheimer demanded to know what happened with her complaint against Democratic Senator Ira Silverstein that went unanswered for over a year.  Her persistence led to the eventual discovery that the LIG position had gone unfilled for three years. Politicians, led by Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President john Cullerton, refused to fill the vacancy.  Another 26 LIG complaints were found to have been shoved aside and unaddressed during that timeframe.  But for the national movement #MeToo movement, and Ms. Rotheimer, there is no doubt the 27 complaints would still be sitting there.  

While going through the complaint process Ms. Rotheimer discovered that she has no rights as a complainant while the accused has both a right to privacy, a right to participate in the process and a right to appeal the outcome. For Legislative Inspector General complaints, it is even more important for the accuser to have participation in the case as it goes through the process as ultimately any case referred by the LIG lands in front of the Legislative Ethics Commission, potentially made up of colleagues of the accused, to determine the final outcome and remedy.  Clearly, the complainant needs the same rights as the accused especially in sensitive matters like sexual harassment or in cases where collegial relationships may make for biased judgments.

In response to the need to empower complainants when they file a grievance with any state inspector general, I filed HB 4840. My legislation would require that complainants are notified that their complaint was received, that they are allowed to review the information that they submitted to the inspector general to ensure the file is complete, that they are allowed to testify personally at a hearing on the matter and have counsel present at their own cost if they chose to,  that they have a right to appeal the outcome of the case, and that they have the right to know their rights and file a complaint if their rights are violated.  These commonsense accountability measures should not be controversial. Citizens who call into question the conduct of public officials should have the right to follow through from public officials and the right to some level of notification, information and participation in the process.

Surprisingly, my legislation received an icy cold reception by both Democrats and Republicans in committee.  In fact, the rarely used “Do Not Pass” motion was voiced by Rep. Currie (D) and the second on the motion came from Rep. Brady(R) when the bill was heard in Executive Committee. Not a single member of the committee stood up for my bill despite its bi-partisan sponsorship.  The arrogance of the political ruling class were made obvious for all to see that morning and Illinoisans should take this as a warning, the elected officials of this state have no interest in citizen participation when it comes to holding government officials accountable.  

What’s more the Legislative Inspector General position remains unfilled.  Despite the intense media attention over the last half-year, the firing of two Madigan aides, and the formation of a Sexual Harassment Task Force, the Democrat leaders have failed to install a LIG.  When they appointed Julie Porter, they only did so as a Special Legislative Inspector General. Her duties extend to only  looking into the 27 complaints held over for three years and any other items as directed by the Legislative Ethics Commission.  

Illinoisans should be outraged.  The state’s fiscal problems stem from the state’s insider, corrupt special deals and the inability for citizens to hold their government accountable.  Near junk bond status, approaching $300 billion in debt at the state and local levels, one person leaving every five minutes, and considered one of the most corrupt and mismanaged states, more than anything else Illinois needs stronger participation by their citizens.  Your politicians think otherwise.