Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday the City Council is now deciding “which inspector general” should be empowered to investigate aldermen, but one thing is certain: there will be “no going back” to the days when nobody was watching them.
Emanuel refused to weigh in on the debate. That’s even though aldermen created the Legislative IG and handpicked Faisal Khan to fill the job to keep the power to investigate aldermen out of the hands of the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson, as former Mayor Richard M. Daley had requested.
Instead of taking a stand, Emanuel lifted the veil on the debate raging behind-the-scenes after last week’s showdown stripped Khan of the power to investigate the campaign finances of Chicago aldermen.
“We’re now having a conversation, `Is it this IG or that IG who oversees City Council’—and that’s a dramatic difference from where Chicago’s been over the last 30 years,” the mayor said.
Emanuel noted that a City Council once “walled off from reform” has enacted a series of ethics reforms at his insistence.
“They now have an IG. They now have a revolving door policy similar to the city. They now have a do-not hire list they actually have to abide by….The City Council finally has an IG. They’ve upped his budget,” the mayor said.
“If they have a decision they want to make between his office vs. Joe Ferguson’s office, that’s for them to make. But there will be no going back to the time in which we never had an IG for City Council.”
Although Emanuel refused to take sides in the “which IG should investigate aldermen” debate, a top mayoral aide disclosed that his boss already has.
“The mayor has discussed the idea with multiple aldermen and encouraged them to explore the idea of expanding Ferguson’s authority to the City Council,” said the mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.
“It’s part of the mayor’s overall plan to expand the IG’s authority to other areas that need it. We’re looking at sister agencies that need better oversight. We’re in talks with one [local government agency] that are pretty far down the road.”
That would honor a campaign promise that Emanuel has yet to fulfill.
Long-simmering tensions between the City Council and Khan, whom many aldermen accuse of over-stepping his bounds, boiled over last week.
Khan made a pitch for more money, manpower and authority to initiate campaign finance investigations without first obtaining a sworn complaint and sign-off from the city’s Board of Ethics.
But instead of granting that request, aldermen shifted the all-important power to investigate campaign finances back to the Board of Ethics. That’s even though the Board of Ethics doesn’t want the power, didn’t do anything with it when it did have that authority and considers it a conflict, since it’s now responsible for adjudicating those cases.
Khan said the move means nobody will be watching campaign spending and, as a result, the upcoming aldermanic elections could be bought. He called it a pattern of actions to tie his hands and force him out.
“I was told there would be no interference — that people would comply with the rules and regulations but they haven’t. Aldermen refuse subpoenas. They refuse to provide us information and documents. And they refused to come in and be interviewed….This has to change. And if it doesn’t, then shut this office down and transfer the power to the city inspector general,” Khan said.
Khan’s four-year term expires at the end of 2015, but his annual budget is expected to run out within weeks, if not days. That could bring the controversy to a head soon.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, championed the move to strip the power from Khan only to learn that his own campaign finances were the target of a Khan investigation.
On Wednesday, O’Connor refused to say which inspector general he favors to investigate aldermen.
But he said, “There has been a dialogue going on for months about this and it’s continuing to go on. The number of votes to make the switch has grown in recent weeks. But I haven’t taken a vote count and quite honestly, there’s other guys who’ve been working on this who might have a better feel for that right now.”