Faisal Khan has managed to accomplish what once appeared to be the politically impossible in Chicago: uniting aldermen behind a plan to let the city’s inspector general investigate City Council members and their employees, an influential alderman said Tuesday.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said he has lined up more than 30 votes for his plan to abolish Khan’s $354,000-a-year Office of Legislative Inspector General and transfer the power to investigate aldermen and their staff members to city Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
Pawar said he expects to move quickly on the ordinance to fill a void created by Khan’s public feud with aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and by the fact that the Council’s handpicked inspector general has now exhausted his budget with four months to go in the year.
“This has to move in September or October at the latest. We can’t go more than a month without oversight,” Pawar said.
“We do believe we have the votes — more than 30 and growing. But this has to be done right. Part of the reason we are where we are is because of the handcuffs we put on the legislative inspector general. It’s difficult for him to do his job. If we take the handcuffs off and give [Ferguson] the resources he needs to do the job right, it’ll start reassuring taxpayers.”
Ferguson could not be reached for comment. Sources said he met recently with Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, and Rules and Ethics Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th). The three discussed investigative ground rules and the resources it would take to do the job right, particularly now that Ferguson is also policing city hiring.
The plan is likely to include a guaranteed percentage of the overall city budget to prevent aldermen who become subjects of IG investigations from retaliating against Ferguson by reducing his budget.
Unlike Khan, sources said Ferguson would be empowered to initiate investigations without consent based on anonymous complaints and recommend disciplinary action.
His recommendations — including censure or fines for aldermen and suspension, firing and placement on the “Do-not-hire” list for their employees — would be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Ethics that’s run by Harris, sources said.
If Pawar’s head count is accurate, it would be a remarkable turnaround for a City Council that created the legislative inspector general’s office — and handpicked Khan to run the office under rules that tied his hands — to avoid giving the city’s inspector general that power for fear he would use it to launch political witch hunts.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said Khan forced the Council’s hands by overstepping his bounds.
The situation with Khan has been untenable as it relates to his investigations and what is perceived to be an abuse of power, not following rules and making them up as he goes along,” Brookins said, stressing that the Black Caucus has not yet taken an official position.
“Everybody else has a budget they have to live with. If he couldn’t do it, he should have said something or not taken the job. Instead, he decided to raise his own salary as opposed to putting it back into investigations.”
Brookins’ former chief of staff plead not guilty in June to federal charges of accepting $7,500 in cash from an FBI mole posing as a developer seeking a liquor license to open a convenience store in the 21stWard. The alderman has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
Brookins acknowledged that there is “resistance by some” to empowering Ferguson to investigate the City Council.
But he said, “I don’t think the current situation will be workable for much longer. We either need to tweak the ordinance that enables Khan going forward or scrap it altogether and fold it in with Ferguson. We’re criticized regardless of what we do. But doing nothing is not an option.”
In late July, long-simmering tensions between Khan and the City Council boiled over.
Khan made a pitch for more money, manpower and authority to investigate the campaign finances of incumbent aldermen and aldermanic candidates 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 had the authority and considers it a conflict, since it’s now responsible for adjudicating those cases.
Khan called it part of a pattern of actions to tie his hands and force him out. The ordinance was championed by O’Connor, whose own campaign finances are under investigation by the legislative IG.
Last week, Emanuel fired back at Khan for accusing the mayor of sending an “alarmingly demoralizing message” about the importance of ethics oversight by ignoring Khan’s year-long demand for more money.
The mayor is also working on a plan to expand Ferguson’s investigative powers to the Public Building Commission and Chicago Park District. That move would honor a four-year-old campaign promise Emanuel has yet to fulfill.