Someone you should know: Patrick Blanchard, Independent Inspector General for Cook County
In 2007, the Cook County Board of Commissioners took the bold step of enacting an ordinance that created the first Office of Independent Inspector General for Cook County. See Chapter 2, Article IV, Division 5, Ord. No. 07-O-52, 7-31-2007 (Cook County). This step might have been inspired in part by the ongoing Shakman litigation, but it was nonetheless a historic achievement for this—or any—governmental body. Just as noteworthy is the fact that the County Board, promptly thereafter, complied with the Ordinance’s complicated and rigorous process of developing a “Candidate List.” In 2008, from that list of 20 names, the Board appointed the County’s first and truly Independent Inspector General (IIG) -- Patrick Blanchard. Blanchard had spent the previous 15 years with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. We have chosen to feature IIG Blanchard in this issue of The Public Servant so we might learn what made him aspire to be the first lawyer serving in such an important role and how this relatively new office and officer are faring four years later.
It is impressive that Patrick made the original list of twenty candidates, as all who did had to meet a set of substantial qualifications and undergo several levels of review, a process designed to assure objectivity and eliminate political pressure. For the first person appointed to the position of IIG, the process also included submission by the Cook County and the Chicago Bar Associations of names for the candidate list. Thereafter, a bipartisan selection committee, composed of a range of representatives, screened the candidates. Patrick passed all the tests.
When Patrick was hired, the only other employees in the Office of the IIG were an investigator and a secretary. Today, Patrick oversees a team of sixteen staff members, including two deputies. Having a full complement of qualified personnel enables the Office to fulfill its mission to “detect, deter and prevent corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, unlawful political discrimination and misconduct in the operation of Cook County government with integrity, independence, professionalism and respect for both the rule of law and the people we serve.”
This quoted statement from the Ordinance might cause a cynical Chicago or Cook County citizen to smirk, but Patrick appreciates the weight of that mission and even embraces the huge responsibility it places on him and his Office. It helps that he is free from the political forces that may be at play in any given week, month, year or administration. Because his is not an executive appointment, Patrick—and anyone else who might come after him—does not report to a “boss” or have to worry about what that boss thinks when he processes a complaint, initiates an investigation or decides whether and how someone should be disciplined for an infraction. Instead, he can focus on eliminating political influence from the multiple and diverse County workplaces and insuring that contractors and subcontractors doing business with the County also comply with state and local laws.
In addition to having the mission and the County’s Ethics Ordinance to guide him and his staff, Patrick is driven by an inner sense of the values that have long been a part of his character and perspective—the importance of good government and faith in the hard working public sector employees he calls “the salt of the earth.” A glimpse at Patrick’s roots and the paths he has traveled during his career will offer some insight into why Patrick is such a good fit for the position he now holds.
Although he died when Patrick was only ten, Patrick’s father, an attorney, was and has remained a significant influence in his life and career. Patrick recalls nurturing a life-long respect for the “rule of law” and the ways in which government can help people. As a youth, he developed an interest in public sector service and law enforcement in particular, which led him to certification and practice as a paralegal at the law firm of Clausen Miller, followed by law school graduation in 1990 and an associate position at that same firm. Patrick then applied for an opening as a Cook County prosecutor and was pleased to finally “get the call” from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in 1993. For the next 15 years, he devoted himself to being the best Assistant State’s Attorney (ASA) he could be, all the while developing skills, insights into people’s motivations and a strong moral center that would qualify him for his current role.
As an ASA, Patrick represented the state and county and their officials in complex federal civil rights litigation, handling many high profile cases including the Ford Heights Four matter. Having established himself as extremely competent, hard working and talented, Patrick was called upon to serve at various times as a supervisor in the Federal Civil Rights Section and in the Labor and Employment Section. Through his work in the Medical Litigation Section, which is charged with representing Stroger and Oak Forest hospitals, Patrick learned quickly about the constant pressures faced by medical personnel and became a supervisor in that section as well. Patrick spent his last five years as an ASA as Chief of the Special Litigation Division. In his multiple roles with the State’s Attorney’s Office, Patrick saw himself as an advocate for the People and for the work of the government and its employees. From such vantage points, he could make useful and effective recommendations for resolving cases and ameliorating conditions that caused the problems in the first place. These efforts, Patrick recognized, would ultimately improve the functioning of government.
As the Cook County IIG, Patrick is entrusted with assuring that the highest ethical standards are upheld at all levels of county government and that employees are treated with respect. Under the Ordinance, the IIG has jurisdiction over all County offices, employees and officers which means he has a very full plate. The County’s sophisticated system for reporting misconduct provides Patrick with useful tools. Complaints will be investigated, but Patrick and his staff are also sensitive to instances of misconduct—particularly “unlawful political corruption” or UPD—which might never be reported by any employee or member of the public. Patrick believes that, with the support of a pro-active and independent Office, a “culture of professionalism can take root” in a government workplace over time and will contribute to reducing corruption and other forms of abuse. Additionally, Patrick is committed to creating a “place where people can turn to seek justice” so that they do not simply endure unacceptable behavior but feel comfortable reporting it to his Office as well as seeking guidance about behavior that may fall into ethical gray areas.
To these ends, Patrick devotes many hours to educational efforts, referring to his presentations as a “road show” because he travels to various county workplaces to inform employees of their rights and responsibilities and explain how to identify and report suspected misconduct that they witness or that adversely impacts them. Patrick and his staff advise employees that if they are victims of political pressure or any other form of abuse and file a complaint, every effort will be made to protect their confidences notwithstanding that some cases may end up in the public domain if the accused is the subject of a hearing and such information has to be disclosed. When it is appropriate, Patrick offers to meet with complainants or witnesses off-site in order to preserve their anonymity.
In addition to his demanding position, Patrick stays engaged in outside professional activities closely associated with matters of professional responsibility. As just one example, he has been a Panel Chair of the Hearing Board of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission since 2008. He also serves on the Board of the Illinois Chapter of the Association of Inspectors General. And there is more, Patrick finds time to be an Adjunct Professor, teaching public administration law to graduate students in the Public Administration Program at IIT’s Stuart School of Business, which allows him to share his broad experience and keep abreast of issues impacting government service.
It was clear to this interviewer that the County, its employees and the public have a solid and trustworthy champion of corruption-free workplaces in IIG Blanchard, and as he and his staff proceed with their mission, we can look forward to continued improvements in government work environments. Such a result will surely lead to more productive workers and the delivery of better services to the public. Hopefully, he will stick around for the necessary time it takes to accomplish all his goals and make the County’s program a model for others. ■