Powerful 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, whose offices were raided by the FBI two weeks ago and – as confirmed by Carol Marin and NBC5 News – again on Thursday afternoon, has been in office nearly 50 years. And during many of those years, he’s served as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
The committee oversees Chicago’s $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation program, but accusations of mismanagement have circulated for years. Now, those accusations have led to efforts to pull that power away from Burke and the City Council altogether.
On Wednesday, the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus introduced an ordinance to move the program from the Finance Committee, under the legislative branch, to the mayor’s control under the executive branch.
“This follows best practices that we’ve observed around the country where no other municipality that we can find has a program like [ours] under legislative authorities,” said Ald. John Arena (45th Ward), who is sponsoring the ordinance.
“It’s under [human resources] or legal authorities on the executive side [in other municipalities],” he said.
Arena dismissed the move as political. Instead, he says, it’s about looking at every dollar spent.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pension reform plan, announced Wednesday, calls for a constitutional amendment to pension benefits, introducing legislation to get the ball rolling on a $10 billion pension-borrowing scheme, and using revenue from legalized recreational marijuana and a Chicago-owned casino to pay directly into pensions.
Arena says a change in the constitution isn’t necessary when the workers’ compensation program hasn’t yet been audited.
“In a crisis, you look at everything you can,” he said. “If I want to go to my constituents … I got to start with, ‘We have looked at every other corner, we have checked under every stone and every rock for where money is coming and going and why.’
“Then we can have a conversation about the measures we have to take to shore up a critical system like our pension system,” he said.
Arena joins us in discussion.