A plan for transparency
There has been a problem in Boston, as well in other cities, of monitoring proficiency and integrity in public service. Citizens are understandably disturbed by accounts of bribery or the theft of taxpayer funds, but the incompetence of office holders is usually not openly criticized, although it can be equally damaging. Now Andrea Campbell, president of the Boston City Council, has proposed the establishment of the office of inspector general to audit and investigate city personnel and organizations receiving funds from the city.
While this might be considered a unique direction for urban oversight, Councilor Campbell’s proposal indicates that several cities including Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia and Richmond already have inspectors general.
Under Boston’s present system of governance, oversight of the city’s management is generally left to the exclusive domain of the mayor unless criminal charges are involved. Then the criminal justice system intervenes. But there is little more than political oversight to prevent the appointment of incompetent cronies to important posts.
Councilor Campbell’s proposal would be effective only if the inspector general is independent. Clearly, that office must be filled by a democratic process. Her proposal calls for a seven member advisory board including one member each from the mayor, president of the city council, city auditor, the corporation counsel, the chair of the city council’s Committee on Ways and Means and two members from the general public nominated jointly by the mayor and the city council president.
The proposal requires that the inspector general must be a Boston resident, serve for no more than two five-year terms, have no specific party affiliation, meet required technical qualifications, not engage in an occupation for profit while serving and not become involved in a political campaign while in office.
In order to be effective, the inspector general must have subpoena power to obtain the information necessary for any investigation.
Councilor Campbell’s proposal deserves our thorough consideration.