Chicago aldermen are proving once again that they “don’t want any oversight” by tying the hands of Inspector General Joe Ferguson, even as they empower him to investigate the City Council, former Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan charged Tuesday.
One day before a showdown vote that could be one of the closest the City Council has seen in years, Khan lambasted aldermen for maneuvering to amend the ordinance in a way that will cut off half of the oversight that Ferguson exercises over the rest of city government.
The change would limit Ferguson to investigating potential violations of the law by aldermen and their employees. Program audits that Ferguson routinely conducts to determine whether taxpayers’ money is being wasted would be off-limits when it comes to the City Council.
The $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program administered by Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) would escape Ferguson’s scrutiny. So would the $66 million-a-year program that gives every one of the 50 aldermen $1.32 million to spend on a menu of infrastructure improvements.
“It’s an embarrassment what they’re doing. The primary role of an inspector general is the ability to be proactive. That’s not just reviewing complaints. That’s reviewing government programs and processes to ensure there’s no waste or fraud,” Khan said.
“What the council is doing here is completely tying his hands to make sure no one can look at what they’re doing. Menu money and worker’s comp programs are exactly the type of programs that an IG needs to look at. That’s where the fraud and waste comes from whether intentional or not. By refusing the IG, the City Council is thumbing its nose at the taxpayers and saying they will do whatever they want. The bottom line fact is that the City Council doesn’t want oversight.”
Three months ago, Khan convinced the FBI to seize and secure his investigative records and closed his office with parting shots at Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a council he claimed wasn’t ready for reform.
He argued then that the system was “rigged from Day One” by investigative rules that tied his hands into a pretzel and set up his office for failure.
On Tuesday, Khan once again targeted Emanuel for failing to take a stronger stand against rules that would hinder Ferguson every bit as much as Khan.
The fact that Emanuel has been weakened politically by the unrelenting furor over his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video is no excuse, Khan said.
“A mayor has to lead. Even if he’s outvoted by council, he has to make his position clear. By allowing the City Council to tie the inspector general’s hands, he sends a message that ethics oversight is not a priority,” Khan said.
“The mayor should be outspoken on the Council’s planned maneuver to tie the IG’s hands and voice his objections as quickly and loudly as possible. The fact that he’s been silent and taken a hands-off approach is disappointing. It just shows once again that the priorities of this administration are different than [those of] voters and taxpayers.”
Earlier this week, Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) portrayed the effort to make audits of City Council programs off limits as a backlash from Khan’s decision to “go rogue.”
Before his term was allowed to expire, Khan spent four years at war with aldermen who accused him of overreaching with a blanket request for their time sheets and investigations that, aldermen claim, embarrassed them unfairly and violated their rights.
“We had someone who was acting outside the scope of their job. When you have someone who does that, it does cause us to take pause on moving forward. We want to make sure we get it right this time. That way, if a person does go outside the scope, we have checks-and-balances. It has nothing to do with people being afraid of someone investigating,” Beale said.
On Tuesday, Khan fired back.
“I would ask any alderman to define exactly how I was rogue. Accusations are very easy to make. Facts are more helpful. If anyone has any, I’ll be happy to address them,” he said.
“No application was ever made to remove me from office for anything I did wrong. It’s an incredibly laughable allegation, considering the way our hands were tied which, I believe, Ald. Beale has admitted. I’m not sure how you can be rogue when you’re hogtied . ”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday that Khan was paid nearly $800,000 over his four-year term for part-time work. And he’s still suing the city for tens of thousands of dollars he claims to be owed.
On Tuesday, Khan maintained that his salary was “the same as any other” city department head minus the sick days, health insurance and pension benefits offered to full-time city employees. He further argued that his budget was the “lowest of any full-time agency” in city government. What he failed to mention was that he was an outside contractor who was free to work for other clients.
“They spent more money on weed whacking on the South Side than they did on oversight of the City Council. That tells you where their priorities are,” he said.
As for his decision to pursue his lawsuit against the city, Khan said he ran out of money to operate his office in 2014 and kept it running, only after getting a “promise from the budget director that I could take my salary from the following year.”
“Once word got out that we were going to borrow against next year’s budget and filed our lawsuit, the city reneged on their promise,” he said.