By Cole Lauterbach
Illinois News Network
In the wake of significant allegations of sexual harassment by a state senator, Illinois lawmakers are asking questions about why the chief ethics office in Springfield has sat empty for years.
On Tuesday, anti-violence advocate Denise Rotheimer accused state Sen. Ira Silverstein of a long pattern of sexual harassment. But after Rotheimer was referred to Senate President John Cullerton’s office, her complaint was referred to the vacant Office of the Legislative Inspector General.
That office, which supposedly resides in the Stratton Building on capitol grounds, looks to be an empty room in Springfield. The position, which is supposed to be the chief ethics watchdog for the General Assembly, has been vacant since June 2013, when the first and only inspector general stepped down.
At the Tuesday hearing, State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, asked Speaker Michael Madigan about the vacant position that should have led the investigation into Rotheimer’s complaint and others like it. Drury worried that the position would be filled with a political insider and would likely be ineffective.
“One concern I have is that, throughout history … where there’s been internal issues where a governing body has … done their own internal investigations, it sometimes turns out that we don’t get the right results,” Drury said.
Madigan responded, affirming that he would commit to filling the vacancy.
“It’s regrettable that we have not had an inspector general,” Madigan said. “I think it’s important to know the Legislative Ethics Commission continues to function.”
The bipartisan commission does have a head executive, Randy Erford, who Cullerton’s office clarified that the report was referred to.
Since the LIG office was vacant, a spokesman for Cullerton confirmed that they had handed over the allegations to Erford as well as the members of the commission. In the year that has passed, no announcement of punishment has been announced regarding Rotheimer’s allegations. In the hearing, she said that the had not received any responses to her complaint.
Erford did not respond to requests for comment.
Naperville Republican Grant Wehrli wanted the speaker to commit to not only filling the vacant watchdog position, but giving the inspector the power to better investigate misconduct.
“Sexual harassment and ethics violations are not partisan,” Wehrli said. “There should not be a 4-4 split on that commission. That office should be filled.”
The inspector position would still answer to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is staffed by lawmakers.
In response to Rotheimer’s accusations, Silverstein said he apologized “if I made her feel uncomfortable but I will wait for the ethics commission’s results before I say anything. I”m not going to try this in the press.”
The committee advanced legislation that would require lawmakers, state employees and lobbyists to complete annual harassment training, and also create a task force that will study workplace harassment in both the public and private sectors and recommend other changes and policies.