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Aldermen may limit journal corrections; Colleagues rip Burke

Ald. Burke moves past the press at the start of a City Council Committee on Finance meeting on Oct. 24, 1997. Photo by Al Podgorski/Sun-Times

Mayor Daley and members of the City Council criticized Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) Tuesday for using a rare parliamentary maneuver to change the record on City Council votes dating back as far as seven years.

“I was in the General Assembly. You vote. You can’t go back in time to change all your votes,” Daley said.

Daley ridiculed Burke for invoking the dead-man defense – blaming Aviation Committee Chairman Thomas Cullerton (38th) for failing to record Burke’s abstentions on four matters affecting his airline clients.

“I haven’t talked to Ald. Cullerton lately,” the mayor said. Cullerton died in February, 1993, three months before Burke cast one of the votes he later changed.

“Ald. Burke has to explain it,” Daley said. “He’ll have to explain that to his fellow Council members as well as to the public.”

Ald. Joseph Moore (49th) said it’s “convenient” for Burke to blame Cullerton, noting that “dead men can’t defend themselves.” But, he said, “It stretches credibility.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Burke, chairman of the City Council’s powerful Finance Committee, changed the record of four past City Council votes involving his airline clients after the Sun-Times raised questions about possible conflicts of interest.

The votes – which Burke changed from “yes” to abstentions – involved lease agreements for Midway and American airlines. At the time, Burke, a lawyer, represented both airlines in property tax appeals. He still serves as American’s attorney. Midway Airlines has gone out of business.

On Tuesday, Burke’s City Council colleagues called for ethics reform to rein in journal corrections. They also accused Burke of violating one of the City Council rules with his March 19 journal corrections.

Council Rule 20 states: “No vote shall be changed after the tally list has passed from the hands of the clerk.” Before making the motion for his four journal corrections, Burke did not move to suspend the Council rules and he said Tuesday that wasn’t necessary.

Rule 20 does not apply, Burke said, because the matters in question were “corrections of inaccurate journal entries, not vote changes.”

His colleagues disagreed.

“It’s not proper. You make your vote at the meeting and that’s it. If you’re going to change a vote, you have to do it before the tally is recorded,” said Ald. Thomas Murphy (18th).

In the last five years, only seven journal corrections have been introduced to change votes. Five of them involved votes by Burke.

Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th) said, “I suppose some people would consider this parliamentary procedure, but these (corrections) have ethical undertones. You can’t change a vote. It’s wrong. I can’t imagine why he just didn’t follow the process.”

Moore added, “If one of us had attempted to do that, there’s no question that Burke would have rose to say, ‘No way.’ He gives us a hard time when we arrive late and ask to be recorded as voting `yes’ on the Finance Committee agenda. He is the acknowledged expert on Council rules. Apparently, he didn’t follow those rules this time in order to change the past.”

Five aldermen – Moore, Murphy, Smith, Patrick O’Connor (40th) and Brian Doherty (41st) – joined Daley in supporting a change that would require aldermen to distribute copies of journal corrections before a vote to prevent aldermen from, as Moore put it, “slipping substantive changes through while nobody is watching.”