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City Council IG turns up the heat on aldermen

Out of money and at war with the City Council he was hired to oversee, Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan turned it up a notch Wednesday — by accusing employees in 24 of Chicago’s 50 aldermanic offices of engaging in political work on city time.

After a two-year investigation that saw five aldermen refuse to cooperate, Khan said he has identified 68 current and former aldermanic employees who “may have engaged” in unlawful conduct by spending hours or even entire work days reviewing candidate petitions at the Chicago Board of Elections.

In 18 of those cases, Khan claims to have hard and fast evidence — in the form of election board sign-in sheets and requests to review political petitions.

Of the remaining employees, 29 filled out a request to review candidate petitions in the “last two election cycles,” the investigation shows.

But, Khan said he was unable to verify whether those employees had “stolen money” by doing political work on the city time because aldermanic offices did not keep complete or accurate time records for their employees and neither did city departments.

Two employees among the 100 people interviewed by Khan’s office felt compelled to do political work to keep their jobs, the legislative IG said. One Council staffer said he “had never seen, nor completed a timesheet.”

“The city, in fact, has no secondary time-keeping mechanism in place for City Council employees. When a City Council employee is separated from city service, he or she is paid out based on the word of the alderman and the alderman only. There is no accurate vacation bank, accurate sick-time leave or any other records that would indicate how much time an employee has” accumulated, Khan said, recommending that aldermen adopt an electronic time-keeping system used by other city employees.

Two years ago, Chicago aldermen accused their handpicked inspector general of overstepping his limited authority and going fishing with a demand for time sheets for all full- and part-time City Council employees dating back to November 2010.

Khan’s decision to unveil his political catch without naming names–and refer evidence to “other agencies–is certain to escalate a heated political battle that has already boiled over into Circuit Court.

If his political hot seat gets even hotter, so be it, Khan said.

“They’d like me to resign. They’d like me to quit this job so they can leave this position open and then eventually fill it with someone [who] is much more akin to their thinking. I won’t do that. I took this job. I’m going to complete this job and I’m going to do investigations like this until my time runs out,” at the end of 2015, he said.

Weeks after being stripped of the power to investigate the campaign finances of aldermen in the run-up to the Feb. 24 election, Khan filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the city to provide the $200,000 this year and $1.5 million next year he believes is needed to complete his four-year term.

In June, he stopped taking a salary so he would have the money to keep paying his staff.

On Nov. 18, he resorted to a desperate measure — using Facebook to solicit contributions from people who have “offered to donate money to help keep our office open.”

The posting marks the first time in recent memory that a city official has asked everyday Chicagoans to make individual contributions to run a government office on top of the taxes, fines and fees they already pay to run city government.

Khan argued Wednesday that the City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel left him no choice but to put his hand out.

“It is incredibly uncomfortable and awkward and unprofessional to have to resort to donations to run a city agency. And that’s the problem — that City Council won’t fund something because they know that it’s engaging in oversight of that body and the elected mayor…should be standing up to help fix this situation and has not to date,” Khan said.