Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Cook County Approve Intergovernmental Agreement for Inspector General

May 03, 2019

After several years of study and discussions, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) approved an intergovernmental agreement with Cook County for the MWRD to share services of the Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General. The intergovernmental agreement allows for the Cook County Inspector General to serve as the Inspector General for the MWRD for a period of three years. The MWRD will provide an annual payment of $600,000 to the County, which will enable the hiring of two full-time investigators and additional staff as necessary, as well as cover related personnel expenses.

This initiative was long championed by MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore, whose office researched potential options for obtaining inspector general services. As a potential mechanism, she suggested sharing services with an existing Inspector General, such as that of Cook County or the City of Chicago.

At a public study session on August 31, 2017 the MWRD Board and Staff discussed various additional avenues the District could pursue to receive inspector general services. Potential options presented by staff included the following:

  • Creating an Office of Inspector General within the MWRD, which would require an amendment to the MWRD’s enabling state statute;
  • Expanding the MWRD’s Internal Audit section or expanding the use of external auditors;
  • Hiring an outside attorney to act as Special Counsel, which could be done through the procurement process; or
  • Expanding the duties and powers of the MWRD Ethics Commission to incorporate Inspector General powers.

At the study session, District staff expressed concerns about sharing an Inspector General with a general purpose government (e.g. Cook County or the City of Chicago) because of the narrow mission and scope of the MWRD’s functions and services. They said that sharing an Inspector General with a government with larger number of staff and scope of services could result in uneven attention paid to the MWRD in relation to cost sharing. The MWRD has a 2019 budget of $1.1 billion and just under 2,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees compared to Cook County’s $5.9 billion budget and 22,438 FTE employees, and the City of Chicago’s $10.7 billion budget and approximately 35,400 FTE employees. However, despite being smaller than Cook County and Chicago, the MWRD is still the fourth largest taxing district in Cook County (behind the City, County and Chicago Public Schools).

Following further discussions and research, the MWRD Board held another study session on May 3, 2018 to discuss the creation of an inspector general for the District through an intergovernmental agreement with Cook County. An intergovernmental agreement was deemed a quicker and more efficient way to achieve inspector general services because it would avoid overhead and start-up costs and would not require a change to statute, as would be required if the MWRD were to create its own Office of the Independent Inspector General. At the meeting, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard provided additional information about how such an agreement would work. He estimated that if his office were to assume IG duties for the MWRD, it would cost between $400,000 and $600,000 annually and would require at least three additional staff members to assist with additional Inspector General duties related to the MWRD.

Ultimately, the MWRD Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with Cook County at its April 18, 2019 Board meeting.  In conjunction, the Board also approved an Inspector General Ordinance for the MWRD modeled off the Cook County Inspector General ordinance. The Civic Federation, League of Women Voters of Cook County, the Better Government Association and Reform for Illinois testified in support of the initiative.  

The Cook County Board of Commissioners then approved the intergovernmental agreement the following week at its April 25, 2019 Board meeting. Once the intergovernmental agreement is signed by all parties, it will be in effect for a period of three years.

The Civic Federation commends the MWRD Board of Commissioners and Cook County on approving this collaborative agreement. As was noted during the two study sessions, sharing Inspector General services allows for existing Offices of Independent Inspectors General to share their expertise with other governmental entities. Other examples include the Public Building Commission which has an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Chicago’s Inspector General. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County also has an intergovernmental agreement with the Cook County Inspector General.

This agreement is a positive step forward for good governance and an asset to taxpayers who will benefit from efficiencies identified by the Inspector General. Having Inspector General oversight will allow the MWRD to identify not only instances of inefficiency and mismanagement, but ideally potential process and system improvements. The Civic Federation encourages the MWRD to work collaboratively with the Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General to facilitate constructive investigations and seek out ways to continuously improve government operations at the MWRD.