City Council IG questions Emanuel’s commitment to ethics reform

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Out of money and stripped of power to investigate campaign finances, the City Council’s handpicked inspector general took his fight for survival directly to Mayor Rahm Emanuel Monday — by questioning the mayor’s commitment to ethics reform.

Faisal Khan ripped Emanuel for ignoring Khan’s year-long demand for more money after the legislative inspector general exhausted his $354,000-a-year budget with four months to go in 2014.

Khan’s semi-annual report also accused four aldermen and three of their chiefs-of-staff of wrongdoing, without naming names.

With Emanuel’s backing, aldermen are now working behind-the-scenes to build support for a plan to zero out Khan’s budget and transfer the power to investigate aldermen and City Council employees to the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson.  

“Being spurned by City Council was not a surprise. It does not take a cynic to recognize this allotment was, in fact, designed as an intentional obstruction to limit the abilities and resources of this agency,” Khan wrote.

“But, the failure of the mayor’s office to act has sent an alarmingly demoralizing message about where the importance of ethics oversight stands within this city.”

Khan’s broadside ignores the fact that Emanuel has twice increased the annual budget for the legislative inspector general — from $60,000 to $354,000.

That’s apparently why the mayor’s office did not take the attack lying down.

“Never before Mayor Emanuel’s tenure has every City agency and the City Council had an Inspector General, as they do now,” the mayor’s office said in an e-mailed statement.

“From his first act in office to the recent end of decades of federal hiring oversight, the Mayor has been actively working to ensure every part of government has meaningful and comprehensive independent oversight.”

In Monday’s report, Khan reported “substantiated findings” against four aldermen he refused to identify. Those allegations, all referred to the Board of Ethics, include:

◆ An alderman, his chief of staff and office manager accused of requiring city employees to do political work on both city and personal time. A former staffer who signed the complaint claimed that, when she refused to circulate petitions for the aldermen on a federal holiday, she was told by a supervisor and by the alderman’s chief-of-staff that she would have to “compensate the alderman monetarily for every sheet” of petition signatures she had failed to complete.

◆ A chief-of-staff to another alderman accused of improperly borrowing more than $4,000 from two constituents and failing to make payments on the loan for “more than two years.” The alderman was further accused of failing to cooperate with the investigation and allowing the chief-of-staff to serve in an official capacity on three political committees benefitting the alderman while also having contract management authority.

◆ An alderman and his chief-of-staff accused of “inserting themselves into a dispute between two neighbors” haggling over $450 in roof damage caused by a contractor. The neighbor who signed the complaint accused the alderman of showing up in her backyard to demand payment and threatening to order “numerous citations” against the woman’s property if she refused to pay up.

◆ An alderman accused of allowing renovation work to be performed on her ward office after “intentionally disregarding” the fact that the building’s landlord had failed to secure the required city building permits. Political work was also performed at the same ward office “on a consistent basis,” Khan wrote.

Last month, long-simmering tensions boiled over between the City Council and the legislative inspector general many aldermen accuse of over-stepping his bounds.

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.

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 did have that 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 Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council’s floor leader, whose own campaign finances are under investigation by the legislative IG.

Emanuel responded to the controversy by saying the City Council is now deciding “which inspector general” should be empowered to investigate aldermen, but one thing is certain: there will be “no going back” to the days when nobody was watching them.

Publicly, Emanuel refused to weigh in on the debate. Privately, he already has.

“The mayor has discussed the idea with multiple aldermen and encouraged them to explore the idea of expanding Ferguson’s authority to the City Council,” said the mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

“It’s part of the mayor’s overall plan to expand the IG’s authority to other areas that need it. We’re looking at sister agencies that need better oversight. We’re in talks with one [local government agency] that are pretty far down the road.”

That would honor a campaign promise that Emanuel has yet to fulfill.

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