Jeff Smith opposes Brian Miller’s inspector general proposal


Daily file photo by Molly Lazar

Ald. Brian Miller (9th) speaks at a forum for mayoral candidates earlier this month. Miller proposed an independent inspector general position for the city last week.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

Mayoral candidate Jeff Smith released a statement Sunday evening opposing Ald. Brian Miller’s (9th) proposal to create an independent inspector general for the city.

In the statement, Smith (Weinberg ’77) called Miller’s proposal as a “stunt” and said the position would be unnecessary. Miller, who is also running for mayor, announced the proposal Thursday. He called for a creation of the position to investigate all city departments, including the Evanston Police Department.

Miller said Thursday that he had first proposed the idea to fellow aldermen when he was appointed to the council in 2015, but received little feedback on it at the time. Miller said the office would have a hiring term or be contracted from outside the city so to be free from outside pressures.

“The most important thing we can have is transparency, disclosure and accountability for how the city spends taxpayer money, how the city conducts transactions and how the city is basically
conducting city affairs,” Miller said Thursday.

Miller cited incidents such as the controversial arrest video of Lawrence Crosby — a Northwestern graduate student who was arrested in October 2015 after being accused of stealing a car that turned out to belong to him — as an example of why an independent investigative official was needed.

Smith said in his statement that Miller had “failed to make a case” for why the office was needed, and that city staff and council members should function as a watchdog for city functions.

“All the items Ald. Miller lists as reasons for an inspector general … could have been the subject of public inquiry, including his own, in the past 20 months he’s been alderman,” Smith said in the statement.

Miller said on Monday that it was unreasonable to expect the council to keep tabs on all city functions.

“To say the council knows everything, and should know everything, is just impossible because there are so many different parts,” Miller told The Daily. “So we need an independent person to investigate.”

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), who is also running for mayor, also critiqued Miller’s proposal. Tendam said an inspector general position might “undermine” work the city is already doing.

“If we want more transparency and oversight, I think there are better ways to achieve that through citizen participation,” Tendam said.

On Thursday, Miller said the city could keep costs low by contracting from other municipalities. Smith said in his statement the office would cost Evanston money it doesn’t have.

“One of Evanston’s greatest problems is a possible future loss of state or federal revenues,” Smith said. “Evanston does not need a new, costly office.”

Tendam agreed, calling the position “unnecessary.” Former Evanston Township supervisor Gary Gaspard, who is also running for mayor, said he was “uncomfortable” with the plan, and warned that budgetary issues should be kept in mind when considering new positions.

Businessman Steve Hagerty, the fifth mayoral candidate, declined comment on the matter.

Miller said the position would be worth whatever it would cost.

“Making sure that our public trust is upheld is not a waste of money,” he said.

The five candidates will face off in the mayoral primary on Tuesday. If no candidate receives over 51 percent of the vote, the top two will move on to a general election to be held in April.

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Twitter: @noracshelly