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Aldermanic Oversight

Bill Would Give Oversight of City Council to Inspector General Joe Ferguson


The spat between aldermen and the person they hired to be their watchdog is growing wider. Chicago Tonight has learned of a growing effort in recent days to abolish the Office of Legislative Inspector General, and move the power of policing aldermen to the Executive Inspector General Joe Ferguson. This is something aldermen were vehemently opposed to just a few years ago.

We’ve learned that the mayor’s office and floor leader Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), as well as Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), are working to pass a bill that would give the power of policing City Council to Executive Inspector General Joe Ferguson. Sources say the effort already has the pledged support of more than half of City Council.

This as the enmity between aldermen and their own inspector general, Faisal Khan, has grown to a boiling point.

Pawar says he hopes a new ordinance putting City Council under the purview of Joe Ferguson will pass before the end of the year.

“There’s probably more momentum now, more than there’s ever been to turn this power over to Joe Ferguson,” said Pawar. “If there was ever a time to do this, the time is now.”

City Council in the past had been opposed to IG oversight, so they created the office of Legislative Inspector General and then hamstrung the office’s ability to investigate them. Whistleblowers must sign their name to a complaint in order for an investigation to go forward.

Last week, O’Connor pushed through a bill that took a lot of the power of policing aldermanic campaign fundraising out of Khan’s hands, and into the relatively obscure Board of Ethics – which has admitted it doesn’t want that power, can’t really do much with it, and didn’t do anything with it when it had it in the past.

Ald. Pat O'ConnorThis, after O’Connor admitted he was the subject of an investigation opened into his own campaign fundraising by Khan’s office.

With this growing distrust of Khan, there had been growing lip service in recent days to abolishing his office altogether and moving the job of policing aldermen to the much more well-staffed and powerful Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office. 

To put things into perspective – Khan’s budget is $350,000; Ferguson’s is $5.7 million. I asked the mayor today whether it was time to make that push a reality.

“We’re now having a conversation whether this IG or that IG should oversee City Council,” the mayor said. “And that’s a very different conversation than we were having years ago. If they have a decision they want to make between [Khan’s] office and Joe Ferguson’s office, that’s a decision they have to make. But there will be no going back to the time when we never had an IG for City Council.”

Khan’s office has come under criticism from the Sun-Times because he has commanded a high salary – and yet there’s been little to show for it in the way of results.

Khan tells me today he will run out of money in the next week or two, and he will ask aldermen and the mayor for more money, although aldermen have made their intentions clear that he is not likely to get what he wants out of that ask. Khan’s salary is $200,000; he says he is still owed $75,000 for this year, and he will work without a salary if City Council doesn’t answer his call for more funding.

“We’re not going to give up, we’re not going away, and we’re going to keep doing this job until we’re told we can’t do it anymore,” Khan says. “I think we need $200,000 additional dollars to fill out the rest of this year, and then $1 million for next year to run this office like any other inspector general’s office.”

Legislative Inspector General Faisal KhanKhan has suggested using the money allocated for the newly created Independent Budget Office –the City Council’s version of the Congressional Budget office.

Council has budgeted $500,000 for that office, but it isn’t even up and running because, as we have reported in the past, the committee charged with picking the budget chief cannot agree on who to hire.

Some of the older guard aldermen on that committee want the job to go to former Ald. Helen Shiller. Younger aldermen on that committee believe Shiller isn’t as qualified as another candidate who has no current or former ties to City Council.

As to the criticism over why Khan is making this money and yet there haven’t been results, he says they have closed several investigations that have gone to the Board of Ethics for the proper adjudicative measures, and says there are 70 open investigations and that they’ve conducted 100 witness or complainant interviews in the first half of this year.

During the broadcast, I incorrectly stated Ferguson's budget as $2.5 million. That is just the amount of money allocated to his office out of the main City Council corporate fund. Through various other funds, the total budget for that office is $5.7 million. The story has been updated with the correct figure.

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