The City Council’s handpicked inspector general had no legal authority to file a lawsuit seeking to compel the city to give him the $1.7 million he claims he needs to serve out his four-year term, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Circuit Court Judge Rodolfo Garcia dismissed the lawsuit filed by Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan, whose tumultuous term is due to expire on Nov. 16.
Essentially, Garcia agreed with the legal opinion Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton gave to aldermen last fall under questioning at City Council budget hearings from Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th), a defendant in Khan’s lawsuit.
“The question is whether someone who is a city official can file a suit in their role as a city official without consulting with the corporation counsel and going through the corporation counsel and the answer to that is, ‘no.’ There’s an ordinance that expressly addresses that issue. State law is clear about it,” Patton said then.
“He is suing — not as Faisal Khan. I have a personal grievance. He could do that. All of us can go out and hire an attorney . . . But if [Khan] is a city official and he says, ‘I’m gonna sue as the inspector general,’ and he just goes out and gets his own attorney — no. He can’t do that.”
Khan could not be reached for comment. His attorney Clinton Krislov said he would continue to pursue case, either by asking the judge to reconsider or by appealing Garcia’s ruling.
Krislov acknowledged that by the time the case gets resolved, Khan’s term will be over and aldermen who tied his hands and have been at war with him ever since will be rid of their handpicked watchdog.
“This is a battle over whether the inspector overseeing the City Council can obtain the court’s protection for the office or whether the various factions that exist can block him from doing his job,” Krislov said.
“Mr. Khan is in the unenviable position of trying to enforce the law in a place that is not ready for reform. There is no real desire among any party for oversight. I don’t know that they picked him because they thought he would be a patsy. But he clearly has not been a patsy and that’s what makes him unpopular without a constituency. He can’t do it all by himself.”
Even if the clock runs out on Khan’s term, Krislov said the legislative inspector general has a stake in pursuing his legal claim.
“They still owe him about $90,000. He reached into his pocket to keep this office going,” he said.
Last fall, Khan resorted to a desperate measure — using Facebook to solicit contributions. It marked the first time in recent memory that a city official had asked everyday Chicagoans to make individual contributions to run a government office on top of the taxes, fines and fees they already pay to run city government.
“It is incredibly uncomfortable and awkward and unprofessional to have to resort to donations to run a city agency. And that’s the problem —that City Council won’t fund something because they know that it’s engaging in oversight of that body, and the elected mayor … should be standing up to help fix this situation and has not to date,” Khan said then.
Last month, Chicago’s often-altered ethics ordinance was changed again—this time in a way Khan warned could have a chilling effect on his ability to investigate aldermen.
The red flags he raised renewed debate on the Council floor on the need to revive a stalled ordinance empowering Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate alderman and City Council employees.
That’s a change proposed by Emanuel’s floor leader and initially supported by more than 30 aldermen but sandbagged by a pair of political powerhouses: Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).
Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who was the target of one of Khan’s ghost payrolling investigations, turned the tables on the legislative inspector general.
“This little tempest in a teapot created by our legislative inspector general highlights, I believe, why we need to have one inspector general. One professional inspector general,” Moore said.