New watchdog nominated to oversee Cook County government

It looks like Cook County’s lead government watchdog agency will get a permanent boss for the first time since the fall of 2022.

After a lengthy and largely behind-the-scenes search, Tirrell Paxton, a deputy at the county’s Office of the Independent Inspector General, was formally unveiled as a special selection committee’s pick for the office’s new leader.

Paxton’s nomination will head to the Cook County Board’s Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. If approved by the committee and the full Cook County Board, his six-year term would begin in June.

The office investigates waste, fraud and abuse across county government, including at the Forest Preserves and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Its first — and last — permanent independent IG, Pat Blanchard, retired in October 2022. Since then, general counsel Steven Cyranoski has been serving on an interim basis.

The office has most recently been hunting down county employees suspected of federal Payroll Protection Program fraud. In past years, it investigated the scandal involving the removal of toilets from then-candidate J.B. Pritzker’s home in a “scheme” to receive a property tax break, nepotism and hints of patronage practices at the county’s Board of Review, and a Cook County commissioner pushing cops to scrap a friend’s parking ticket.

Paxton has worked at the office since 2010. He is currently deputy inspector general of the Compliance & Program Review Division, where he conducts investigations, program reviews and surveys.

Before joining the office, Paxton was an auditor and fraud investigator at Ernst & Young LLP, according to his inspector general’s office biography. He was also previously an associate attorney concentrating in bankruptcy law at DLA Piper, and a law clerk for Judge Ronald Barliant in the federal bankruptcy court.

Blanchard announced his exit years early to give the county a long runway to find his successor. But the already cumbersome selection process — which included two special committees and a national search — was delayed on multiple fronts.

The final pick was held up, at least in part, because the original ordinance mandated two commissioners from each political party serve on the selection committee. The county board only has one Republican, so commissioners had to tweak the rules last summer.

After the search committee made its recommendations, county officials deferred consideration until after the fall budget process and winter holidays, county general counsel Laura Lechowicz Felicione told the Tribune earlier this month.

Out of two final candidates, a special selection committee chose one last week in closed session. Paxton’s name was not revealed until Thursday. The office’s mandate could expand further after November: the Democratic nominee for Circuit Court clerk, Mariyana Spyropoulos, has proposed giving the OIIG oversight of that office.

Chicago Tribune’s Olivia Stevens contributed.