County appoints insider as new inspector general

A new watchdog will be taking over the Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General, responsible for rooting out waste, fraud and corruption across much of county government.

The post, which has not had a permanent leader since the fall of 2022, will be filled by current Deputy IG Tirrell Paxton. County commissioners approved his appointment unanimously on Thursday.

A certified public accountant and fraud examiner, Paxton has worked in the office for more than 14 years. In a hearing on his appointment on Wednesday, he pledged to “work diligently” to maintain the office’s progress since its founding in 2007.

The county’s first and only inspector general was Pat Blanchard, who retired in late 2022. During Blanchard’s tenure, the office investigated the scandal involving the removal of toilets from then-candidate JB Pritzker’s home for property tax breaks, nepotism and potential patronage practices at the Board of Review, and a Cook County commissioner pushing cops to scrap a friend’s parking ticket.

The office also investigates smaller individual cases of employee conduct like vacation or medical leave abuse, harassment, or dual employment violations. Recently, that’s included investigations into employees who were fraudulently awarded federal payroll protection program loans during the pandemic.

In the interim, the office’s counsel, Steven Cyranoski, has led it.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Paxton said he would prioritize three areas: program reviews to identify waste and mismanagement, “because the public deserves quality services and we must be good stewards of their tax dollars;” compliance with political hiring guidelines under the Shakman decree; and the increasing number of workplace complaints the office has received alleging discrimination and sexual harassment.

“I think we all recognize the critical nature of your role here in the county and your independence in ensuring that when you receive a complaint, you verify it and you follow it to its logical conclusion,” Commissioner Bridget Degnen told Paxton Wednesday. “It’s not always the easiest role, not the most popular role, but doing it well is really critical for us to maintain credibility and transparency to the people who voted for us.”

A deputy of the compliance and program review division, Paxton has worked at the at the Inspector General’s Office since 2010. Before joining the office, Paxton was an auditor and fraud investigator at Ernst & Young LLP, an associate attorney concentrating in bankruptcy law at DLA Piper, and a law clerk for Judge Ronald Barliant in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, according to his office biography.

After multiple months of delay, Paxton was selected by a special search committee composed of representatives from local bar associations and a separate selection panel of county officials. The appointment is for a six year term.

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