Where 14 mayoral candidates stand on workers compensation: Their full responses
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Here are 14 mayoral candidates’ responses to our question: We believe Ald. Ed Burke should step down as head of the Finance Committee, where he oversees the workers compensation program. If he does not, we believe the City Council and the mayor should strip him of the job and/or move the workers comp program out of the City Council and into the executive branch, which is the norm elsewhere. What’s your position on this?
The responses are published in alphabetical order.
For the City of Chicago, I would structure the administration of the workers’ compensation program along the same lines as used by Cook County, which have been in place since I took office, since 2000. At the County, the Department of Risk Management is responsible for the administration and payment of workers’ compensation benefits for injuries or illness sustained on the job. The department determines compensability of each claim in compliance with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation and Workers’ Occupational Disease acts, and maintains a data system for monitoring and controlling workers’ compensation claims. The department reports directly to the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, who is accountable to the citizens of Cook County.
On a periodic basis, workers’ compensation cases are reviewed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners. The board can question the Department of Risk Management about excessively high settlements, look for patterns of use and abuse in workers’ compensation claims, and hold county department heads and officials accountable for improving the health and safety of all employees. This process is rigorous and has helped to ensure strict controls over workers’ compensation claims. As mayor, I will create a similar structure and process for administering workers compensation claims for the City of Chicago.
Ed Burke has been a friend for years and as I’ve said, I am pleased that he has committed to cooperating with the current federal investigation.
As mayor, we will not operate executive programs such as the workers’ compensation program from City Council. We need to start fresh and consolidate all executive functions into the executive branch of city government — just like other major municipalities — where they can be operated with efficiency and transparency.
I support administering workers’ compensation in the executive branch. The City Inspector General investigated the workers’ compensation program and was unable to get access to relevant data. Keeping this program under the finance committee removes vital oversight and keeps accountability away from the mayor. Voters deserve to know that funds like this are carefully managed.
The workers’ compensation program being moved from Ald. Ed Burke’s purview should not be contingent on the outcome of the current FBI investigation on the alderman’s office — it’s a matter of good government. It is absolutely unacceptable that the program is administered by an alderman and without the oversight and monitoring of the inspector general’s office. Moreover, it’s mind-boggling for the inspector general to have faced such vociferous resistance to the modest information requests made of Ald. Burke regarding data from the workers’ compensation program.
Ald. Burke should step down from his role as chair of the finance committee regardless of the outcome of the current investigation he’s under, and regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, simply because his role chairing the finance committee epitomizes the consolidation of power that thwarts transparency, oversight, and government that is supposed to operate in the interests of the residents of this city. The workers’ compensation program should be moved to a separate agency, not overseen by a member of the legislative body. Moreover, the inspector general must be given the appropriate oversight to ensure that this $100 million a year program is administered fairly and effectively with the interests of city workers and city residents in mind, not the interests of those seeking to curry favor or consolidate power.
If we are serious about addressing the deep-seated issues of corruption in our city, it’s not enough to change the people in leadership (i.e. demanding that Ald. Burke step down). We must change our institutions. Putting in place necessary checks and balances, like inspector general oversight and shifting the program to a separate agency, similar to the formats in place at the county and state level, are institutional measures that strengthen the program, mitigate corruption and the appearance of impropriety, and make government work for the people — not just for politicians.
ROBERT “BOB” FIORETTI
These are two separate questions. Ald. Ed Burke is a walking, talking conflict of interest and he makes the case perfectly for term limits. When I am mayor, I will seek to have a new finance chairman. As an attorney, however, I firmly believe in the presumption of innocence as a bedrock of our society, and therefore I do not believe he should step down either as alderman or finance committee chairman because of an investigation, unless there are further developments on those issues.
The workers’ compensation program is another matter entirely. This program should never have been set up so that one person, no matter who they are, has complete and total control. My opposition to the way this is run predates the FBI investigation by a decade or more. From my first day in the City Council, I have been a vocal proponent of completely reforming the way the workers’ compensation program is run.
This program, like all others, should have complete transparency, of which it currently has none. There should also be zero patronage involved in a program such as this. In other words, it should be run in a professional manner, as is done in every other city in America.
LA SHAWN FORD
When whistleblowers and the media expose evidence of patronage or favoritism in the city of Chicago’s workers compensation program, no one should be able to block the city’s inspector general from auditing and investigating the finance committee. The books need to be opened, taxpayers need to know the truth, and an unbiased and thorough report should drive efforts for reform, for the benefit of taxpayers and for those who are truly injured on the job.
The current investigation of Mr. Burke should be separated from the public policy issue of what is best for the people of Chicago. A full and fair investigation and response from Mr. Burke is in order.
It makes sense to consider the proposal that the city’s corporation counsel could handle workers’ compensation cases, with oversight from a City Council committee.
Though there is a serious cloud surrounding this federal probe, authorities have not provided any public details of the investigation and nobody has been charged with any crime at this time. It is up to Ald. Burke and the City Council to decide whether or not he should step aside as the probe plays out. Ald. Burke may decide it’s in his own best interest to step away, but it’s his decision and he’s entitled to a presumption of innocence.
As to the second question, there have been thoughtful proposals over the years to move workers’ comp away from the finance committee. I strongly support moving the Chicago Workers’ Compensation Program out of the purview of the committee on finance and into the executive branch of city government, with proper professional oversight and independent review.
This program costs Chicago taxpayers $100 million per year and it should be administered by workers’ compensation professionals for optimal management. In all other major U.S. cities besides Chicago, the executive branch oversees workers’ compensation and Chicago needs to follow suit.
JOHN KENNETH KOZLAR
If Chicago wants the same result, then Chicago will elect the same people. Nothing will change if we elect the same elitist, machine-style politicians over and over again. This is the reason why I am running for mayor. We simply need a fresh, new approach to politics in Chicago. For too long, we have elected people who say all of the right things and who go to all of the right places during election year. However, when they get elected, they take more care of their friends and political networks than they do our neighborhoods and communities. It is time we put Chicago first, and not the deep-pocketed donors. It is our time to shine as community members and neighborhoods, and put our elitist, long-termed politicians out of office. We need terms limits for all of City Council, so we can limit events like this from happening again.
Ed Burke should step down as head of the finance committee. If he does not, the City Council and the mayor should strip him of the job. Additionally, while the investigation is pending, Burke should not play a role in vetting judges for the Cook County Democratic Party. I also support moving the workers’ compensation program out of the City Council and into the executive branch.
The City of Chicago’s $100 million-per-year workers’ compensation program cannot continue to be controlled by a single member of City Council, in the dark, without any meaningful oversight. So little is known about this program that even some City Council members have said they do not know exactly how it operates. According to a February 2016 resolution introduced in City Council, the workers’ compensation program “creates cynicism among the taxpaying public, undermining trust in the government of the City of Chicago and in [City Council].”
As mayor, I will introduce an ordinance that moves the workers’ compensation program from City Council to the executive branch, where a board composed of members from the city’s law department, chief financial officer’s office, and human resources will be responsible for hearing and adjudicating claims. In my administration, the workers’ compensation program, for the first time in decades, will be run in public view. Moreover, the workers’ compensation board will be subject to oversight from both City Council and the city’s Office of Inspector General.
It’s time for Chairman Burke to step down as head of the Finance Committee and if he doesn’t, the City Council and the Mayor should remove him from this role.
Recently, news broke that the offices of 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke had been raided by the FBI and that he had become the subject of a federal investigation.
As chairman of the finance committee, Ald. Burke has been able to amass a huge campaign war chest and significant personal wealth related to his tax appeals practice.
For decades, Ald. Burke has had to recuse himself from crucial votes due to his conflicts of interest. I am a firm believer that a public servant should avoid outside employment that prevents them from advocating and representing their constituency.
As a partner at the Chicago law firm Klafter and Burke, Ald. Burke represented President Donald Trump in property tax matters that favor the rich. At a time when black and brown communities are under attack, particularly from President Trump, our elected officials need to stand up and defend our most vulnerable communities.
As mayor, I will evaluate all chairmanships and move the $100 million workers’ comp program from the finance committee to the human resources department.
Throughout my career, I have always stood for responsible, ethical government and it is apparent that there is a need for leadership and voices, unmarred by conflict and special interests.
I believe that workers’ compensation should not be and never should have been in the finance committee. It should be permanently removed from the finance committee, regardless of whether or not Ald. Burke stays. As to whether or not he should remain chairman of the finance committee, if he indeed is the focus of the investigation, then he should resign or at least take a leave.
For the future of the finance committee, I as mayor am going to review all committee chairmanship assignments and I will solicit City Council input before deciding which chairmen should remain and which chairmen should be replaced and with whom. It is important that these appointees reflect the diversity of the city and have the support of the community.
ROGER L. WASHINGTON
As a true Independent candidate for mayor, I call for Ald. Edward Burke to step aside as chairman of the city’s finance committee. Ald. Burke continues to hover over this city as a cloud of corruption and influence peddling. His influence over the last 50 years as alderman and chairman of finance ought to serve as a clear sign that this city needs term limits for its elected officials. His grip on the city’s finances including workers’ compensation is so strong that it is obvious why even machine heavyweights like Bill Daley, Toni Preckwinkle and Susan Mendoza dare say nothing to challenge him. In fact, since they’ve all benefited from Burke’s monetary contributions at one time or another, their silence is deafening!
Just as during Harold Washington’s years as mayor, with the FBI raid of his City Hall office just days ago, Ed Burke remains an embarrassment to the City of Chicago. Finally, a change in his ward’s demographics could possibly yield an end to his shenanigans, including racial polarization. Ald. Burke has been out of touch with most Chicagoans for quite some time, but his grip over progressives in his ward has been overwhelming. However, today is a new day. As Harold Washington once said, “You can run, but you cannot hide!” Apparently the FBI agrees. I join the Sun-Times Editorial Board in calling on Ald. Burke to resign as chairman of finance. If he refuses, once I’m elected mayor, I will do everything within my power to strip him of his current responsibilities as the chair of finance.
Much like the superintendent of police and other members of Rahm’s administration, there has been too much controversy with Ald. Burke and his chairmanship of the finance committee for him to continue in that role. If he does not voluntarily resign that position, a new chair should be elected by the council.
Checks and balances throughout government are essential. My own plan for city operations includes empowering the inspector general and involving citizens in as many reviews, oversight activities and decisions as possible.
For example, I will call for a forensic audit of the TIF fund expenditures, publish accounting statements on the city’s website and ensure quarterly reviews of all departments and committee expenditures to seek out wrong-doing and white collar crime. Anyone serving the people in government has an obligation to report details of how they spend the peoples’ resources and anyone found mishandling the peoples’ funds should be prosecuted.
Until we achieve parity in spending and find ways to fulfill human needs of our citizens, there can be no peace in our City and no place to hide for wrongdoers.
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