The City Council would eliminate their handpicked and handcuffed inspector general and shift the power to investigate aldermen and their employees to the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson, under an ordinance introduced Wednesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) is the target of an investigation by Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan.
O’Connor was also the prime mover behind a July ordinance that stripped Khan of his power to investigate the campaign finances of aldermen and shifted those responsibilities to the Board of Ethics. But, O’Connor flatly denied that his motives for shifting the responsibility to Ferguson were political.
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“Whether or not people want to question the motivation, the result will be a more comprehensive office, tax savings in terms of duplication of effort and I do think a better way to function,” he said. “The idea of having a competent investigator is something that I think everybody in the City Council embraces and this will help us get to that point.”
Rather than get even with Khan, O’Connor said he’s simply trying to “get it right” 25 years after aldermen quashed then-Mayor Richard M.Daley’s plan to have only one inspector general. At the time, aldermen were more concerned about political witch hunts than they were about ethics.
“Maturity,” O’Connor said.
The ordinance introduced Wednesday with support from a majority of aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the product of negotiations with Ferguson’s office. Ferguson agreed to it because it dramatically expands his power, allows him to “be a complainant” and initiate investigations “based on facts” and guarantees him a budget of at least 0.1 percent of overall city spending.
A majority of aldermen have signed on because it prohibits Ferguson from launching an investigation based only on anonymous complaints. That could have been a deal-killer.
“Both the mayor’s office and the inspector general — as well as members of the City Council — felt that a complaint should come from an entity — somebody [who] is known,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said he believes the votes will be there to pass the ordinance. But he acknowledged that two political powerhouses — Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) — remain opposed because they don’t trust Ferguson. Burke has sparred with Ferguson over the inspector general’s demands to investigate workmen’s compensation claims administered by the Finance Committee.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that getting rid of Khan won’t be as simple as rounding up 26 votes. To terminate his four-year term with more than a year to go, aldermen must serve him with specific charges and hold a hearing where he is allowed to defend himself while represented by an attorney. That could turn into an uncomfortable pre-election spectacle and turn Khan into a martyr.
On Wednesday, O’Connor didn’t want to talk about the exit strategy. He’s more concerned about keeping his fragile coalition of aldermen together in a body that has sent 32 of its current and former members to prison since 1972.