New special Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter has begun her investigative work in Springfield as she takes on years of misconduct complaints that have gone uninvestigated.
Porter, who was hired to the position earlier this month, is speaking out, and she isn’t hesitating as she gets to work in clearing a backlog of 27 misconduct complaints that were ignored for four years.
“I would ask people to keep an open mind,” she said.
Some of the complaints, sexual in nature, have sat uninvestigated for years, but Porter is serious about serving those that brought forward the complaints, and recognizes how difficult it was for some to come forward.
“These types of investigations can be very difficult for the people making the complaint,” she said. “Some people are comfortable being very out there and transparent, but other people are really concerned about the possibility of retaliation.”
The state isn’t the only government body to take on the issue of sexual harassment. Cook County commissioners also proposed new harassment training this week.
“We’re getting ahead of this problem,” Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider said.
At the state level, some lawmakers are pushing to go even further after training sessions, saying that ethics rules need to be completely rewritten.
“We need to essentially rewrite our entire ethics ordinance, because the General Assembly has proven again and again that it’s incapable of policing itself,” State Sen. Karen McConaughay said.
Those failures in investigating ethics complaints came to a head earlier this year, when sexual harassment accusations were lodged against State Sen. Ira Silverstein. After no one responded to complaints made by victim rights advocate Denise Rotheimer, state lawmakers quickly moved to hire Porter as a temporary inspector general.
“I can understand how some people might be skeptical,” she said. “I intend to do this earnestly, and I intend to do a very good job.”
Porter’s contract runs through next June, and lawmakers hope to have a permanent inspector general in place by the time her deal expires.
In the meantime, Porter is serious about investigating misconduct allegations, and taking criminal action if necessary.
“If I see something that is more appropriately handled by criminal authorities, I am empowered to, and will make, a referral,” she said.