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More unanswered questions

Thursday, Aug 26, 2010

* I have at least three remaining questions about the Jerry Stermer debacle. The first is who illegally leaked the Stermer report to the media. The second is whether former Executive Inspector General James Wright knew/heard/suspected that Gov. Pat Quinn was about to replace him before he turned in his report on Quinn’s chief of staff. There’s some suspicion among Quinn’s partisans - rightly or wrongly - that Wright could’ve kept that report about Stermer’s self-reported three campaign-related e-mails in a desk drawer as a sort of employment insurance (Quinn said he interviewed several replacement candidates this year, so the scuttlebutt around the office was probably intense), and might have leaked it to the media in retaliation for being fired

The state watchdog who was fired after investigating one of Gov. Pat Quinn’s senior aides says he’s surprised the chief of staff resigned over the issue.

Former executive inspector general James Wright tells Chicago’s WLS Radio that he thinks Jerry Stermer is a “stand-up guy.” Wright says he didn’t seek Stermer’s resignation and he thought a verbal reprimand would have been enough.

Awww. That’s so sweet. Seven months investigating somebody who in the end deserved only a verbal reprimand?

My last unanswered question is about Quinn: What the heck was he thinking firing an executive inspector general two months before an election? Is he daft?

* The goo-goos’ reaction to the Wright investigation and Stermer’s resignation is fascinating, by the way

“In this particular situation, you’ve got a man who’s widely thought to be an honest and honorable guy who reports his own mistakes, and then we spend resources and months sorting through 37,000 e-mails.”

Andy Shaw, director of the Better Government Association, called Stermer’s transgressions “the ethics equivalent of jaywalking.” […]

Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, said the incident shows that more transparency is needed regarding what inspectors general are doing. […]

“In Illinois we need to really put things on a scale. I don’t think we need to waste a nickel on this,” Canary said.

But Shaw said the panel should pursue the matter “if they think there is value in coming out with an explanation and a finding that can be used in the future.

Jerry Stermer is a decent guy and I hate to see him go out like this. The OEIG has done some good work in the past, but they appeared to lack perspective on this one. Stermer turned himself in for what Shaw is correct in saying is the “ethics equivalent of jaywalking.” And then Wright claims he spent more than seven months investigating the man. The goo-goos helped write this law, which has so clearly gotten out of hand. They ought to help reform the reform.

* Related…

* Hard to believe coincidence in inspector’s firing

- Posted by Rich Miller        


31 Comments
  1. - Ahoy - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:05 am:

    Quinn’s Governorship has not been successful… at all. Is Stermer falling on more than one sword?


  2. - wordslinger - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:07 am:

    Careful about asking for more “reform” from the goo-goos. We’ll end up with special prosecutors for every questionable practice like in the good old days in Washington, when it was considered social suicide NOT to have a special prosecutor after you.


  3. - Ben Gazzara - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:11 am:

    Breaking news:

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/blagojevich/2640788,robert-blagojevich-case-rod-082610.article


  4. - Skirmisher - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:14 am:

    As with everything else that happens in this administration, none of it makes a lot of sense. The guy who ends up looking weak and foolish is once again none other than Quinn himself, who, as usual, seems to have over-reacted and done himself more harm than good.


  5. - Doug Dobmeyer - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:15 am:

    jerry fell on a sword either because was asked to or he felt that was best for his boss… all it shows is how muddled the boss is.


  6. - Madame Defarge - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:33 am:

    in this “reign of Terror”, as with others, there are no longer minor offenses everyone it seems must go to the guillotine. Not healthy then or now.


  7. - Pat Robertson - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:33 am:

    I think Stermer was so embarassed by Quinn’s latest flip-flop on furlough days (which went out over Stermer’s signature on Friday) that he just couldn’t take it any more.


  8. - Bob - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:37 am:

    They should have popped him for a $1,500 fine just like they did Shelia, Abby, and Rebecca.


  9. - cassandra - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:40 am:

    Wasn’t Wright appointed by Blago. Maybe after the arrest and impeachment and attendant publicity, he
    was afraid of the consequences of making a decision and/or of declaring the matter a trivial one. So he procrastinated. We’ll probably never know, but I wouldn’t assume the worst.

    Also, how long do inspector general investigations
    normally take, not just eoig but dcfs and others.

    One thing is clear. Quinn should have replaced him over a year ago or re-appointed him. I simply don’t believe he couldn’t have found somebody competent before now.


  10. - downstate hack - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:43 am:

    If indeed there was nothing to this but three e-mails, it is really astounding how the Quinn administration blew it out of proportion. I agree with Rich “What the heck was he thinking firing an executive inspector general two months before an election? Is he daft?”


  11. - Louis Howe - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 11:56 am:

    When even the Goo-Goo God’s say an infraction was comparable to “Jaywalking’ Quinn looks like a fool for allowing Stermer to resign. On second thought, perhaps it’s the classic case of “when two fools met”….Stermer for resigning over an innocuous email and Quinn for letting him do it.


  12. - Draznnl (Rhymes with orange) - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 12:05 pm:

    You ask, “Is he daft?”
    Did you want a group “Duh” in response?


  13. - Way Way Down Here - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 12:06 pm:

    I think Jerry wanted out very badly. Who can blame him at this point.


  14. - D.P. Gumby - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 12:18 pm:

    Wright is no great loss and the OEIG would benefit from transparency to show what a waste of space it is.


  15. - Anonymous - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 1:03 pm:

    I don’t think it is unreasonable for an IG to take many months investigating this situation. Remember, this is not just about sending the e-mails that violates state ethics laws. It was the content contained within the e-mails that required an extensive investigation. What Stermer was saying in the e-mails is that he was using state resources to coordinate with the Quinn campaign. Now whether you believe it is appropriate for some cross-over coordination is the subject of another post, but the conduct that Stermer admitted to in his e-mails is a clear and serious violation that deserved a thorough investigation. I wonder if the goo-goos would be just as dismissive of this investigation if it wasn’t Quinn and Stermer?


  16. - public employee - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 1:29 pm:

    ‘Reign of terror’ is the perfect description of the OEIGs activities.

    It’s nice that better govt types will stand up for one of their own, but I wish they would stand up for the front line workers that have been subjected to data mining, surveilance and year long investigations over less serious offenses. At least Stermer was a high level official doing campaign work on state email. I have seen investigations where front line clerical staff are literally placed under surveillance for being 15 minuteslate to work. Now they are filing complaints for campaigning at state buildings even if no state resources or time were used and where the individual employee was already reprimanded or counseled by the Agency or exonerated by an arbitrator’s decision.

    In trying to make common sense of this situation we may be missing the lack of common sense in the entire OEIG process.


  17. - Ghost - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 2:26 pm:

    I disagree with the OEIG doing some good work. I question why we have or need such an ofice. Almost all agencies have an Internal Affirs or inspector general in house. For those that dont, or i you need to investigate a multi agency issue these used obe handeled by the ISP, with employes an inestigators who were somewhat shielded by theunion and the police merit board.

    Instead we have another investigative agency on top of the already existing ones, with employees and leaders serving at the will of the governor without any protection or insualtion. Seems like a good place for a budget cut.


  18. - flabergasted - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 3:00 pm:

    Have you forgotten about the HFS-IG that conducted covert investigation in local bars? He is still there. And this seemed really untenable, too.


  19. - wordslinger - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 3:10 pm:

    Can you imagine being Pat Quinn’s chief of staff? Translating that vision into making the trains run on time?

    If I were Shermer, I’d cop to not kicking in for communal coffe, either. Expel me. Get me out of this job!


  20. - Anonymous - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 4:00 pm:

    The investigation standards of the national Association of Inspectors General, which has certified many state EIGs and staff as trained and tested IGs, call for thorough investigations.

    This necessarily means that when someone “confesses” to having violated the law or rules only 3 times, the IG investigation begins at zero and is conducted de novo to see exactly what, and what else, the employee did do wrong.

    How ludicrous to accept the word of an admitted rule/law breaker that his misconduct was limited only to those things he/she is now admitting.

    On the issue of the forensic examination of electronic evidence, a professional IG investigator treats all investigations the same - each is built from the ground up.

    An invesigator does not ask for 1 email. The investigator obtains the subject’s entire email archive and conducts a thorough search for evidence of misconduct - ALL of the misconduct committed by the subject. And an email archive can easily contain as little as 38,000 messages.

    The investigators that I know can carry up to one dozen cases at a time. That necessarily means that previously and newly assigned investigations have to be conducted simultaneously. With only 5 days in a week that means that many investigations will take 3, 6, 12, 18 months so that all evidence can be obtained for analysis and so all witnesses - those against and those supporting the subject - can be found and interviewed.

    And yes, the time thief/cheat might be surveilled, not for coming in 15 mins late one day, but for an alleged pattern of doing so day after week after year - stealing perhaps tens of thousands of dollars in salary from taxpayers.

    Those who criticize the length or extent of an IG investigations really are totally ignorant of what a thorough professional investigation requires according to best-practices ans stanards. To be sure, it’s not what often passes for a media investigation - 3 interviews, a document and a 7-day expose series that produces no evidence that would stand up in court.

    Insiders tell me that Wright’s investigations were each vetted through multiple layers of supervisors and multipe layers of attorneys to make sure each was fair, thorough and had evidence sufficient (probably cause) to support discipline, an Ethics Commission hearing, or in some cases federal prosecution of some of the people you read about in headlines.

    I understands that these IG investigations are the real deal, folks - each is a serious as a heart attack, and none are 2 interviews and type it up. Not even state, federal or county prosecutors do a more thorough job, from what I see. And OEIG investigators. managers and lawyers would know since almost all of them are from prosecutorial, law enforcement, or other IG offices.

    If you are a truly innocent state employee, the OEIG is your best friend because they will work as vigorously to find evidence of innocence as of guilt. And if you are a bad actor, well, they will be on you like stink on a bad discharge.

    People tend to criticize what they do not understand, so that excuses the uninformed opinions of most people. They don’t know, but desire to be informed, to learn.

    But it doesn’t excuse the ignorant, clueless comments made by those employed, or self-employed, to pass on their so-called wisdom and knowledge to you.

    So here’s a test for us all to present to anyone who is telling you that they “are in the know”: Mr./Mrs. all-knowing one, how many investigations have you conducted from beginning to end? How many times have you called an IG office for an explanation of their procedures and how things work there. How many federal prosecutions have you assisted? How many corrupt officials have you directly run out of office - not as a result of subsequent criminal prosecution, but directly on the strength of your stories/work?

    And we ought to insist on a very very high number before considering that person to be an expert on how a professional administrative investigation ought to be run.


  21. - zatoichi - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 4:07 pm:

    3 emails out of 37,000 costs you a job? Imagine what the crime of drinking Coca Cola in buildings where Pepsi has the contract would get. Like an old management mantra: major in minors. The pettiness must be unrelenting.


  22. - 69 mets - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 4:22 pm:

    anonymous 1:03
    excellent. the Chief of staff was directing HIS staff to do political work. how many manhours in OMB would have been spent or was spent coming up with the budget reduction numbers? probably a lot since they’ve never had a budget.


  23. - TIRED OF THIS - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 4:47 pm:

    And you still have Blago man LAVIN running things and putting his people in every agency


  24. - Upstate - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 5:40 pm:

    The whole episode is not about ethics; it’s about Quinn’s judgment. He wants again shows a lack of spine, cutting loose a good man for political reasons, rather than standing behind him.


  25. - Chicago Cynic - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 6:11 pm:

    The goo-goos responded in the way that they have because this is much ado about nothing. There is absolutely zero evidence of either an intent to break the rules, a pattern of ethics violations or any other discernible problem. None.

    This was a sad event and Rich’s questions are absolutely right. Did Wright leak this or release this in a fit of peak against the administration? If he did (and there is certainly a fair bit of smoke around this), then he has committed a far more serious violation than Stermer.

    And no, I don’t really know him. Stood up at a press conference with him and a bunch of others once. It’s not the point. This circumstance stinks.


  26. - Way Way Down Here - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 6:34 pm:

    - zatoichi - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 4:07 pm: Don’t joke about that one. Been busted myself for that.


  27. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 10:00 pm:

    Anonymous 4 pm

    What a crock. Just for an example: take multiple months to investigate an infraction by a union employee and lose any ability to discipline because of lack of timeliness.

    You speak the bs of the bureaucrat. Look at it, use everyday sense to make decisions, take action or not and move on. Read 38,000 e-mails. What a joke. Do a statistically significant random sample and unless you find alarming results, treat it for what it is, a minor infraction.

    If you want to argue, have the b___s to sign your name.


  28. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 10:09 pm:

    And, my favorite advice to IG types, since you’re so far behind, use the sense God gave you to know the difference between bs and corruption, and spend most of your valuable time on the latter. You won’t be nearly so far behind on the cases that count. You are like an emergency room that forgot how to triage.


  29. - VanillaMan - Friday, Aug 27, 10 @ 8:30 am:

    There is more than we know.
    This isn’t about three emails.


  30. - NRA associate - Saturday, Aug 28, 10 @ 6:13 am:

    The OIG is a joke and everyone knows it. Maybe they out to help collect the monies owed from former employees that stole state money but have not paid the state back; auditors at Aging.


  31. - NRA associate - Saturday, Aug 28, 10 @ 8:20 am:

    - Anonymous - Thursday, Aug 26, 10 @ 4:00 pm:

    I have to agree with Steven on this one. Evidently you are not using common sense to make your deduction of the issue. There were many, many, corrupt and unethical goings on that were swept under the table and the OIG goes after (3) emails? Give me a break.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


* Afternoon updates
* Hospitals back removal of income tax sunsets
* The other strategy
* *** UPDATED 1x *** Quinn onboard; Rauner latches onto term limits proposal
* Because Illinois is a real battleground state
* Quinn dodges Rahm question on "Morning Joe"
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