Council inspector general loses fight with aldermen he alienated

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Power to investigate the campaign finances of Chicago aldermen was stripped from Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan and returned to the Board of Ethics Wednesday, prompting Khan to declare the move an effort to force him out.

Aldermen finally got the showdown they’ve been itching for with an inspector general many accuse of overstepping his bounds. They won the political battle — but taxpayers lost, according to Khan.

“No one will be reviewing all the campaign donations coming in to candidates and incumbents. And without that review to see who exactly is giving money to whom and for what purpose, we don’t know if anyone will be elected legally or illegally and whether that money should be returned,” Khan said.

“There’s an election in seven months and they’re more interested in collecting as much money as they can and putting it in their coffers so they can get re-elected — and where it comes from and who’s giving it to them is irrelevant…. When they talk about they’re ready for reform, this clearly proves that they’re not.”

Khan said the Board of Ethics “doesn’t want” the power to investigate the campaign finances of aldermen and “hasn’t done anything with it” when it had that responsibility.

It would also be a “clear conflict of interest” for them to have that power, since the Board of Ethics is now responsible for adjudicating those cases, Khan said.

An ethics ordinance championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and approved by the City Council last year empowered the Board of Ethics to levy fines triple the illegal contribution against both contributors and recipient elected officials or candidate committees.

But it also shifted investigative responsibility to Khan, who can initiate investigations only after receiving signed and sworn complaints.

Khan asked the City Council to close that legal loophole, with backing from Ethics Chairman Stephen W. Beard. Instead, the City Council’s Rules Committee voted 20-to-9 the shift the power back to the Board of Ethics.

According to Khan, it’s part of a pattern to tie his hands and force him out.

“I was told there would be no interference — that people would comply with the rules and regulations, but they haven’t. Aldermen refuse subpoenas. They refuse to provide us information and documents. And they refused to come in and be interviewed…. This has to change. And if it doesn’t, then shut this office down and transfer the power to the city inspector general,” Khan said.

Asked if he believes aldermen are trying to make it so uncomfortable as to force him to quit, Khan said: “Yes.”

The Khan showdown marred a day when aldermen appeared to be forging ahead into the post-Shakman era — by following a federal hiring monitor’s recommendation to abide by a “do not hire” list of public employees fired for misconduct.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s storyline for the day was that the City Council is, indeed, ready for reform. He was not about to let the campaign finance controversy alter that script.

“They have taken steps forward. It’s not a straight line. But, things people have said for 30, 40 years the City Council would not have done, they’ve done ’em in the last three years,” the mayor said.

“The oversight is no longer in limbo or in doubt. It sits with the Ethics [Board] which has now been fully-staffed.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, championed the ordinance shifting the power back to the Board of Ethics and defended it Wednesday, despite the blistering attack from Khan.

In fact, O’Connor said he’s been working behind the scenes for months to help Khan get the additional resources he seeks to run his office, but it was a tough sell among aldermen who believe Khan has over-stepped his bounds.

Initially, O’Connor said Khan agreed to submit to an outside audit to prove he was operating within the law and to justify his request for additional resources. When Khan reneged, O’Connor said he opted for Plan B, which is to return the power to the Board of Ethics. Khan flatly denied that he had ever agreed to an audit.

“This is two departments looking for more dough,” O’Connor said.

“And this is an opportunity to have the discussion because, if this got shifted to his office, that might create a compelling argument for him to get more money,” O’Connor said.

Aldermen are still furious about Khan’s 2012 demand for two years’ worth of time sheets for their full- and part-time City Council employees.

They are equally upset about Khan’s decision to go public about prior investigations of aldermen they consider “penny ante” and about the legislative IG’s decision to let his chief of staff take a 10-week leave of absence to work on a legislative campaign.

“I wouldn’t give him a dime,” Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) said last month.

“He came in with one attitude and, now that he’s in the job, he has changed faces,” she said. “The question that I asked when we hired him was, ‘Are you gonna be like [city Inspector General Joe] Ferguson with the, ‘I got you [mentality]?’ Thus far, that’s what he’s been. . . . He thinks he has [authority] over any and everything and listens at nothing.”

Last year, Khan accused Ald. Joe Moore (49th) of using his taxpayer-funded ward office to do political work, firing an employee who blew the whistle on it and giving the former staffer an $8,709 payment equal to 81 days worth of severance try and cover it up.

Moore tried to salvage his reputation as a self-declared champion for ethics reform by accusing Khan of violating a legal mandate to get prior approval from the city’s Board of Ethics before launching an investigation or referring matters to law enforcement; keep investigations confidential; and give the subject of an investigation notice of allegations against him.

Still, the furor over Khan’s investigation prompted the White House to put off giving Moore a good-government award — even though the alderman had traveled to Washington to receive it.

Khan’s four-year term expires at the end of 2015.

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