City inspector general cashing in, but has little to show

Written By Dan Mihalopoulos Posted: 08/05/2014, 04:48pm

After aldermen refused to expand his power to investigate them last week, the City Council’s inspector general said it was a sign that aldermen still are not ready for reform.

But there’s little evidence that legislative I.G. Faisal Khan and his small band of minions have the ability to do anything meaningful to help clean up the City Hall cesspool.

Khan’s office easily could generate some bad publicity for council members looking for new four-year terms in February from voters in an anti-incumbent mood.

Yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that the cash-strapped city has paid to Khan personally, the office has not been involved in any cases resulting in state or federal criminal charges against an alderman or a council staff member.

The resistance of the council to giving him any more power should not have surprised Khan. That the office exists at all is a testament to the eternal aldermanic focus on self-preservation. 

The job was created in the first place only because aldermen wanted to avoid giving the real inspector general’s office – the one that tries mightily to keep the rest of city government honest – from having any authority over them.

Khan eagerly filled the new position in 2011 with the backing of an open proponent of patronage and backroom deals, the then-33rd Ward. Ald. Dick Mell. At the time of Khan’s hiring, Mell noted that he had been imported from New York City and proudly declared, “This is nobody that nobody sent.”

Perhaps nobody can do much with the office, given it was set up to fail, with license to investigate only in response to signed complaints.

How Khan has handled the daunting task has not helped matters.

Only $60,000 a year was put aside initially for Khan’s entire budget, including his pay. The number quickly grew to nearly six times the initial budget. 

Most of that money continues to flow into Khan’s own pocket, city records show. After being paid nearly $184,000 in 2012 and more than $216,000 — more than the mayor — during the last year, Khan has received checks from the city for a total of $226,9191.72 so far this year. After the latest payment of $25,000 two months ago, the grand total shelled out to Khan since he took office has surpassed $626,000.

With an annual budget for the office of just a little more than $350,000, that means the vast majority of all the money that’s been earmarked for the cause of investigating aldermen is going directly to Khan himself.

A handful of aides are paid relative pittances. One of them, Kathy Posner, came to the office last year after working as a senior consultant to “The Mancow TV Show” — hardly the resume of a government corruption buster.

She fielded my call for her boss, saying the man she referred to as “General Khan” had heeded her advice to not give an interview and would not disclose the names of all his investigators for their own safety.

It’s an amateurish claim. You can easily look up the names, titles and salaries of City Hall Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s aides in the online city payroll. Federal agents are identified in open court.

And, after all, Posner and co-worker Kelly Tarrant boasted of being Khan deputies in their online LinkedIn profiles. Last year, I disclosed in this column how Khan had let Tarrant take a “leave of absence” from investigating aldermen to work on a campaign for a state House seat on the West Side. 

Posner said Khan would not grant me an interview this week because that column was “kind of brutal” and because “we know the aldermen are doing everything they can to trash us.”

In his defense, she said, Khan does not get benefits. So, Posner argues, paying more than $200,000 a year to Khan is a good deal for Chicago.

There’s no defending what the aldermen did in limiting the already-weak authority of an office they shouldn’t have created anyway.

Amid the litany of serious ethical problems at City Hall, however, the inability to further empower Khan and his office of dubious value should not rank high among the regrets of Chicago’s reformers.

He may believe his tears are bitter, but he’s crying all the way to the bank. Taxpayers have gotten little, if anything, of real importance to show for what they’ve invested in him.

That he’s not as docile as aldermen had hoped when they chose Khan does not mean his office is an effective vehicle for reforming the council. 

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