The days may be numbered for the watchdog hired to oversee the Chicago City Council. Chicago Tonight first reported last month on an effort by the mayor's office and top aldermen to abolish the Office of Legislative Inspector General and move the job of policing City Council to the more powerful Executive Inspector General, Joe Ferguson. Today, that effort moved one step closer to reality.
An ordinance that would move the duty of investigating aldermen to Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office was introduced with 36 aldermen signing on in support today. This is something that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, when aldermen were vehemently opposed to this kind of oversight. But today’s ordinance would shift the duty away from the embattled investigator aldermen handpicked, Faisal Khan. Many aldermen say this is a win for taxpayers, including one of the bill’s sponsors – Ald. Pat O’Connor who himself is the subject of one of Khan’s investigations.
“This a step most people felt was the appropriate measure years ago,” O’Connor said. “And whether people want to question the motivation, the result will be a more comprehensive office and more tax savings.”
“Ferguson’s office is a professional office with the correct resources,” said 45th Ward Ald. John Arena. “The legislative IG was underfunded. Everyone knew it was underfunded; it could not execute the level of investigation it needed to do.”
The new ordinance would still force potential whistleblowers to sign their name to a complaint; it does not authorize anonymous complaints, but would give Ferguson the authority to initiate his own investigation without anyone coming forward. It also boosts the funding of his office to take on the additional resources to police 50 politicians and their staff. Mayor Emanuel, whose office has been working quietly behind the scenes to craft the bill, said today’s action is a cornerstone for a legislative body once famously not ready for reform, and he says his office helped with the ordinance.
“The idea that the City Council of Chicago would be arguing, ‘should we go with the office the City Council set up, or should we have one for the entire city,’ is dramatically different than a City Council that used to say it wasn’t ready for reform,” Emanuel said.
Faisal Khan has a salary around $200,000 and is contracted through the end of next year. Aldermen say this new bill does not deal with how to wind down that office. Khan sent out a statement today imploring whistleblowers that his door was still open.
“Until a law says otherwise, the Office of the Legislative Inspector General will continue operation to fulfill its mandate - investigating allegations of misconduct by Aldermen and their staff,” Khan’s statement said.
Meanwhile, at least two powerful aldermen today made clear that they don’t like the notion that Joe Ferguson could be their watchdog.
“So there’s going to be two inspector generals that have jurisdiction over City Council?” questioned Ald. Ed Burke. “If they don’t like what [Khan’s] doing, there’s a procedure to try and remove him. Have they done that?”
“Joe Ferguson has a lot on his plate because he has the entire city. That’s a lot for his investigators,”
said Budget Committee Chairwoman, Ald. Carrie Austin.
All eyes are on Ald. Ed Burke who has had his tussles with Ferguson in the past, but has been more cooperative with Faisal Khan. Many believe Burke will work behind the scenes to defeat this bill and keep oversight in the hands of the much weaker Khan, whose office is hamstrung by rules that prevent him from doing much of anything and a lack of resources.
Ultimately, it could shape up to be a battle between Rahm Emanuel and the Dean of City Council, Ed Burke, in terms of who has more sway over the majority of aldermen. The bill will be debated over the next few weeks and possibly voted on next month.