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Hog-tied, City Council's inspector general prepares to exit

The City Council’s handpicked but hog-tied inspector general is mapping plans to close his office and store his files in a “secure confidential location” as his tumultuous, four-year term winds to a close.

Faisal Khan’s attorney has argued behind the scenes that the legislative inspector general should continue to serve — and both he and his staff should continue to be paid — until Khan’s successor is “chosen and qualified.” That’s even though Khan’s term expires Nov. 16.

Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton has argued otherwise. That means the $354,000-a-year office that Chicago aldermen dragged their feet in creating and then set up for failure will close its doors at the end of the week.

“Mr. Khan will make certain that the files are stored in a secure, confidential location and, eventually, turned over to whoever is legally entitled to them. That could be an appointed successor, Inspector General Joe Ferguson, if they fold the office into his, or if the FBI chooses to take them,” said Clint Krislov, Khan’s attorney.

“It took the City Council 18 months to choose somebody in the first place. It may take a while to select a successor. So he really has little choice but to close the office and protect the files for everybody’s benefit. They have active investigations and those should be protected, both for the people of Chicago and the people being investigated.”

Krislov said the FBI has “indicated that they may take steps to ensure protection of the files. . . . I don’t know if a subpoena has been issued or will be issued if the office closes. Because of the nature of the investigations, it’s not surprising they might be interested.”

Khan did not return phone calls. His spokesman, Michael Graham, said no subpoena has been delivered.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect the integrity of our investigations . . . so all of the work we’ve engaged in doesn’t just get thrown away or end up in the trash bin somewhere,” Graham said.

Earlier this year, a Cook County circuit judge ruled that Khan had no legal authority to file a lawsuit seeking to compel the city to give him the $1.7 million he claimed he needed to serve out his four-year term. Khan is still in court seeking reimbursement from the city for roughly $90,000 in personal expenses he claims to have incurred to keep the office afloat.

Two weeks later, Emanuel intervened to make certain the legislative inspector general’s office remained open through Nov. 16.

At the time, Khan took pains to praise Emanuel, whose commitment to ethics and reform he had repeatedly questioned.

“The OLIG must be adequately funded, properly empowered and shielded from the backlash of those who both fund our investigations and are subject to them. . . . But for today, there remains an office . . . to ensure accountability in our municipal governance. And this could not have happened without the mayor,” he said then.

More than a year ago, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, persuaded 35 aldermen to co-sign an ordinance shifting the power to investigate aldermen and their employees from Khan to Ferguson, provided Ferguson is prohibited from launching investigations based on anonymous complaints.

The ordinance has been stuck in committee ever since amid opposition from the City Council’s two most powerful aldermen: Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) and Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th). Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th), the newly slated Democratic candidate for Circuit Court clerk, has yet to hold or schedule a hearing on the ordinance.

Emanuel has repeatedly said that the City Council will never again be without a watchdog. But the mayor has done nothing to break the stalemate. In fact, his 2016 budget includes the same $354,000 in annual funding for the Office of Legislative Inspector General.

The imminent closing of the office turns up the heat on the mayor to broker a solution.

Krislov said he will be watching with interest to see what Chicago aldermen, who have seen dozens of their present or former colleagues go to prison, do next.

“Faisal came in to do a job and he’s done it and, as a result, they’re attempting to make it impossible for him to continue. It suggests that Chicago still ain’t ready for reform,” Krislov said.

“It’ll be interesting to find how easy it’ll be to find someone to replace him,” he said. “The mayor has said he doesn’t want there to be no oversight. But for some time after the 16th, that may be the situation.”

It’s not clear what, if any, interest the FBI would have in Khan’s files.

Out of money and at war with the council he was hired to oversee, Khan turned it up a notch last year by accusing employees in 24 of Chicago’s 50 aldermanic offices of engaging in political work on city time.

After a two-year investigation that saw five aldermen refuse to cooperate, Khan said he had identified 68 current or former aldermanic employees who “may have engaged” in unlawful conduct by spending hours or even entire workdays reviewing candidate petitions at the Chicago Board of Elections.

In 18 of those cases, Khan claimed to have hard-and-fast evidence in the form of election board sign-in sheets and requests to review political petitions.

Of the remaining employees, 29 filled out a request to review candidate petitions in the “last two election cycles,” the investigation showed.