Powerhouses oppose plan to get rid of City Council inspector

SHARE Powerhouses oppose plan to get rid of City Council inspector

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader on Wednesday forged ahead with plans to eliminate the Council’s handpicked and handcuffed inspector general — and shift the power to investigate aldermen to the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson — despite opposition from two power players.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) has sparred with Ferguson over the inspector general’s demands to investigate workmen’s compensation claims administered by the Finance Committee.

Burke also handpicked Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan and referred him to then-Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell (33rd), who sold Khan as the “nobody nobody sent.”

On Wednesday, Burke went public with his reservations after privately telling colleagues he believes they’re making a big mistake.

“There’s already an inspector general for the City Council. I’m not saying that. That’s what the law is . . . Is somebody suggesting that he be removed?” Burke said.

“If you don’t like what he’s doing, there’s a procedure to remove him. Have they done that? . . . That requires [aldermen] to file charges. He’s entitled to a hearing. . . . There’s gonna be two inspectors general that have jurisdiction over the City Council?”

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) wants to let Khan serve out the year remaining on his four-year term then find a replacement who won’t over-step his bounds. She doesn’t trust Ferguson with the power to investigate aldermen and City Council employees.

“We made a decision to have a separate entity. I think we should still keep a separate entity,” she said.

“I don’t necessarily have to be afraid of [Ferguson] not to trust him. . . . He’s mellowed out. It’s not a gotcha. It’s a correction. That’s what he’s about now. He’s about correcting things as opposed to [saying], ‘All of you are corrupt.’ But I still think we should be separate.”

Despte that powerful opposition, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) introduced the ordinance at the City Council meeting on Wednesday crafted with a powerful assist from Emanuel after negotiations with Ferguson’s office.

Ferguson agreed to it because it dramatically expands his power; allows him to “be a complainant” and initiate investigations “based upon facts”; and guarantees him a budget of at least 0.1 percent of overall city spending. It also requires Khan to turn over his investigative files to Ferguson and empowers Ferguson to make his own contracting and personnel decisions and investigate lobbyists.

To win support from reluctant aldermen, O’Connor agreed to give aldermen two appointments on the five-member selection committee that would choose future inspectors general and prohibit Ferguson from launching an investigation based only on anonymous complaints. That could have been a deal-killer.

“Both the mayor’s office and the inspector general — as well as members of the City Council — felt that a complaint should come from an entity — somebody [who] is known,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor’s campaign finances are the target of a Khan investigation.

The mayor’s floor leader was also the prime mover behind a July ordinance that stripped Khan of his power to investigate the campaign finances of aldermen and shifted those responsibilities to the Board of Ethics.

But, O’Connor flatly denied that his motives for shifting the responsibility to Ferguson were political.

“Whether or not people want to question the motivation, the result will be a more comprehensive office, tax savings in terms of duplication of effort and, I do think, a better way to function,” he said.

“The idea of having a competent investigator is something that I think everybody in the City Council embraces and this will help us get to that point.”

Rather than get even with Khan, O’Connor said he’s simply trying to “get it right” 25 years after aldermen quashed then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to have only one inspector general.

At the time, aldermen were more concerned about political witch hunts than they were about ethics.

What changed?

“I don’t know. Maturity?” O’Connor said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that getting rid of Khan won’t be as simple as rounding up 26 votes.

To terminate his four-year term with more than a year to go, aldermen must serve him with specific charges and hold a hearing where he is allowed to defend himself while represented by an attorney. That could turn into an uncomfortable pre-election spectacle and turn Khan into a martyr.

O’Connor didn’t want to talk about the exit strategy. He’s more concerned about keeping his fragile coalition of aldermen together in a body that has sent 32 of its current and former members to prison since 1972.

He would only say that, under his ordinance, the Office of Legislative Inspector General would “cease to function in terms of the authority that the previous ordinance gave.”

Pressed on whether the city was prepared to buy out the remainder of Khan’s term, O’Connor said, “I don’t know that we need to do that.”

Khan failed to return repeated phone calls. He has made it eminently clear that he does not intend to go quietly.

He has lashed out at Chicago aldermen — both verbally and in newspaper op-eds — for tying his hands, ignoring his demands for records and interviews, and stripping him of the power to investigate their campaign finances.

He has accused Emanuel of sending an “alarmingly demoralizing message” about the importance of ethics oversight by ignoring Khan’s year-long demand for more money.

The mayor refused to get in the middle of the public dispute between aldermen. He would only crow about the fact that a City Council that, not too long ago, wasn’t “ready for reform” is now choosing between two inspectors general. Aldermen are no longer deciding whether to have someone looking over their shoulder at all.

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