Chicago aldermen are taking another stab at relaxing ethics standards that apply to their independent contractors five months after a blast from the Ethics Board chairman gave them cold feet.
Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd) want to change the definition of “city employees” to include only those independent contractors whose work for the city has generated more than $100,000 during the previous calendar year or exceeded 500 hours.
“The presence or absence of a contract governing the professional relationship shall not in and of itself determine the status of an individual as either an ’employee’ or an ‘independent contractor,'” the ordinance states.
“Rather, that status shall be determined pursuant to the 20-factor test . . . promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service. It shall be the responsibility of the employing/contracting person to determine the appropriate category for the person they are employing/contracting with.”
Hairston could not be reached for comment. Munoz defended the change.
“There’s a number of contractors that do little work for the city and need not have to report because they’re small,” Munoz said Thursday.
“I’ve got a cleaning company that cleans my office. They get maybe $8,000 a year from me. They shouldn’t have to report . . . who their other clients are. It’s a paperwork nightmare for them. They don’t have the time or the wherewithal to do it. That’s why we put it at $100,000. Anybody who gets less than $100,000 doesn’t have to report.”
Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon called the second attempt to relax the rules as bad as the first.
“It’s an unhealthy secrecy for a few selected people,” Conlon said.
“The monetary hours standard is very artificial. It’s not how you define them. It’s what you require of them as a matter of them receiving compensation derived from the taxpayers. The question becomes what should be required of them in telling us about their income from sources doing business with city? They’re receiving compensation from the taxpayers. [Requiring disclosure] is a matter of good government.”
In April, Conlon’s outspoken opposition snuffed out the first try at changing the definition of “city employees” to exclude independent contractors.
The City Council defeated the change on a 24-21 vote, just a day after the Rules Committee had approved it.
The failed ordinance would have been retroactive to Jan. 1. That effective date would have excused roughly 45 independent contractors employed by aldermen from filing ethics statements disclosing their clients, what business they or their spouses have with other units of local government or companies doing business with local government.
They also would have been excused from abiding by the ban on gifts valued at more than $250 and disclosing other sensitive information, including debts, capital gains and real estate holdings.
Conlon precipitated the about-face by condemning the proposed change as a step backward using the same arguments he reiterated Thursday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel applauded the move. He argued that any move aldermen make should be to tighten ethics rules and provide more disclosure and transparency — not less.
Hairston stood her ground on that day — and unleashed her anger on Conlon.
“It is not about secrecy or a privileged few or anything else. The law is very clear what an independent contractor is,” she said then.
“There are other ways if they want them to report things that they can do that. But they cannot do that under the name ‘independent contractor.'”
Hairston even threatened to file a lawsuit to force the issue and strike a definition of city employees she called “illegal.”
“Independent contractor has a meaning that is protected by federal law, and we’re clearly violating that. . . . It was just recently reaffirmed in the Uber case,” Hairston said then.