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McConnaughay walks back part of allegation, but she isn’t wrong that it’s a mess

Thursday, Nov 2, 2017 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Late yesterday afternoon, Sen. Karen McConnaughay made a bold claim and then walked part of it back to the Sun-Times

McConnaughay, a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said she was told last week on a commission conference call that there were no “open” cases. On Wednesday she said she learned there are “up to 27 separate complaints against members of the Illinois General Assembly” — while outlining that she didn’t know whether that meant legislators or their staffers, and it’s unclear what kind of ethical violations were alleged in those complaints.

* OK, let’s move on. From the CS-T

Not only is sexual harassment not even listed as a violation of the state ethics act, but the job of legislative inspector general has been vacant since 2015.

“I’ve been on the commission since late 2014,” said state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles. “I literally have never seen a single case come forward.”

That includes the case against Silverstein.

* Tribune

Sexual harassment is not currently included as a specific violation of the state’s ethics act, so the Legislative Ethics Commission has no power to hold a hearing on a sexual harassment complaint or punish someone who’s been accused of sexual harassment, according to Heather Wier Vaught, Madigan’s top lawyer and a former ethics officer for the House Democratic Caucus.

The inspector general (that’s the job that’s vacant), however, does have the ability to investigate a sexual harassment complaint. Once an investigation is complete, though, the Ethics Commission can’t do much with it other than release it to the public. And accusers are typically uncomfortable with going public with their accusations out of fear of retribution.

The legislation proposed by Madigan would add a prohibition against sexual harassment to the state’s ethics act, making it possible for the ethics commission to punish those who’ve been found in violation, Wier Vaught said.

* Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

Illinois currently has an office known as the Legislative Inspector General (IG). This office is responsible for investigating claims of discrimination in the state legislature. However, the seat has been vacant since 2014. According to recent reports, this vacancy means complaints are now sent directly to the Legislative Ethics Commission in the General Assembly, which is responsible for appointing a Legislative Inspector General.

An apparent problem with the Legislative Ethics Commission is that it lacks a working, transparent process to evaluate claims. Individual commissioners are state legislators selected by General Assembly leaders. Those commissioners have appointed an executive director for the Commission, Randy Erford. However, the Illinois Comptroller lists Erford, the former director of College Illinois!, as a contractor for the state (Erford is paid $37,746 annually for part-time work).

Erford is presently the only staff member for the Commission. According to a compliance report for July 2014 - June 2016, there were “procedural deficiencies” and an “inadequate segregation of duties” regarding the Commission’s financial practices. Erford’s responses to the findings ascribed the issues to “oversight or confusion over filing deadlines,” as well as the observation that he is the only staff member of the office.

However, Erford also said adding an additional staff member was not a prudent option because of the lack of work in his office. Despite this, the General Assembly has appropriated $312,500 to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which also funds the (currently vacant) Legislative Inspector General’s office. Erford’s office only spent $40,000 in 2016, allowing $272,000 in funding for the Ethics Commission to be returned to the state.

       

12 Comments
  1. - My New Handle - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:16 am:

    Lots of “walking back” going on. Some legislative exercise regimen? Are they after weight loss or credibility, or just burning off the fat they are chewing?


  2. - Perrid - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:16 am:

    Does ex post facto come into play here? As in, could the commission punish Silverstein and (presumably) others after this bill becomes law, or is it going to have to be some kind of backroom member management (or public shaming) type thing for the existing complaints (assuming any of the 27 are about sexual harassment)?


  3. - Roman - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:18 am:

    Since the ethics commission does not have statutory authority to investigate sexual harassment cases, is it possible that none of the 27 pending complaints are harassment cases?

    Didn’t Rotheimer testify that she was referred back to Cullerton’s office by the ethics commission when she filed a complaint? Is that because the commission doesn’t take harassment complaints?


  4. - WTFWYT - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:24 am:

    That ICPR piece is riddled with inaccurate information. I wouldn’t be citing that as a credible source.


  5. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:24 am:

    So going by the numbers from yesterday, we paid $40,000 for 8 complaints to be filed away to rot in 2016. $5,000 per complaint.


  6. - WTFWYT - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:27 am:

    ==- Roman - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:18 am:

    Since the ethics commission does not have statutory authority to investigate sexual harassment cases, is it possible that none of the 27 pending complaints are harassment cases?

    Didn’t Rotheimer testify that she was referred back to Cullerton’s office by the ethics commission when she filed a complaint? Is that because the commission doesn’t take harassment complaints? ==

    Rothheimer referred the complaint to Cullerton’s office, not the legislative ethics commission. Cullerton’s office referred it to the commission. presumably it’s somewhere in that stack.


  7. - Downstate - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:44 am:

    Many of the problems with culture are addressed by asking “What is the tone at the top?”

    It helps explain problems like Wells Fargo and the like. Seems applicable to the General Assembly as well.


  8. - Cubs in '16 - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 10:45 am:

    “We should have an expeditious appointment of a Legislative IG to exercise oversight and provide a channel for any persons who believed they were wronged to lodge a complaint. This is more important than the virtue-signaling legislation being advanced at present…”-Rep Ives

    ===The legislation proposed by Madigan would add a prohibition against sexual harassment to the state’s ethics act, making it possible for the ethics commission to punish those who’ve been found in violation.===

    Care to walk anything back yourself Rep Ives?


  9. - @MisterJayEm - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 12:31 pm:

    “Care to walk anything back yourself Rep Ives?”

    If this morning’s weirdly dishonest interview on WBEZ was any indication, Ives will always double-down rather than walk anything back.

    – MrJM


  10. - Nick a name - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 1:37 pm:

    As pointed out in another issue here, why not have the Human Rights Commission handle legislative harassment claims?


  11. - wordslinger - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 1:41 pm:

    –“I’ve been on the commission since late 2014,” said state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles. “I literally have never seen a single case come forward.”–

    Not exactly the curious sort.


  12. - Sigh - Thursday, Nov 2, 17 @ 1:51 pm:

    =I’ve been on the commission since late 2014,” said state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles. “I literally have never seen a single case come forward.”=

    Maybe someone should explain to McConnaughay that as a member of the commission, she serves as the “jury” that makes recommendation on complaints that are found to be a violation, also know as FOUNDED reports.

    So, a person makes a complaint with and Inspector General (established under the ethics act… There are also IG’s in agencies like HFS and DCFS, but they do not have authority over ethics act violations). Once an inspector general investigates the complaint and agrees that a violation of the Act has occurred, then the report is sent to the Ethics Commission. If the complaint is unfounded, then the case is closed and would not be referred to the Ethics Commission.

    And to this quote from the ST article: McConnaughay said the privacy of those filing complaints should always be protected, but “there’s no reason not to provide public disclosure about how many complaints there are.”

    Well, if you look at the Legislative IG’s website, Homer did disclose the number of complaints in quarterly reports, while he was IG. Yes, NO quarterly reports have been published since the office has been vacant.


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