Watchdog: Treasurer Conyears-Ervin Fired Employees After They Warned She Was Violating Ethics Ordinance by Using City Resources to Host Prayer Service

An online flyer that lists Melissa Conyears-Ervin as the host of a prayer group, identifies her as “Chicago City Treasurer” and uses her official city portrait. (Facebook)An online flyer that lists Melissa Conyears-Ervin as the host of a prayer group, identifies her as “Chicago City Treasurer” and uses her official city portrait. (Facebook)

Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin fired two city employees after they warned her she was violating the city’s government ethics ordinance by using city resources to host a prayer service, according to a probe by the city’s watchdog.

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Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s determination that Conyears-Ervin violated the city’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance is the second time in six months that Witzburg has found probable cause that an elected Chicago official violated city ethics rules.

Conyears-Ervin, a Democrat, is running to unseat U.S. Rep Danny Davis in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District. First elected as city treasurer in 2019, Conyears-Ervin was unopposed in her bid for reelection in 2023. She is married to Ald. Jason Ervin (27th Ward), Mayor Brandon Johnson’s hand-picked Budget Committee chair and the former president of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

The Chicago Board of Ethics ratified the inspector general’s findings on Nov. 13, and Conyears-Ervin now has an opportunity to contest the results of the probe at a future meeting of the board. Each violation of the law could trigger a fine of $20,000.

In keeping with the rules governing the inspector general and Chicago Board of Ethics, Conyears-Ervin was not named in the report. However, sources confirmed to WTTW News that Conyears-Ervin is the subject of the probe.

A spokesperson for Conyears-Ervin did not directly address the findings of the inspector general in a statement sent to WTTW News.

“The treasurer is proud of the work she has done to protect and grow the city’s investment portfolio and to promote financial literacy and empowerment for residents and has done so with integrity and high ethical standards throughout her time in office,” according to the statement.

In December 2020, Conyears-Ervin was admonished by the Chicago Board of Ethics for using her professional social media accounts to broadcast a prayer service she led in violation of rules that prohibit city leaders from using city resources for non-official purposes.

Conyears-Ervin was not named in that action and did not face punishment because she removed the posts cited by the board in 2020.

Those posts included a broadcast of the prayer service, which took place in 2020, on the office’s official Facebook page. Conyears-Ervin promoted it on her official Twitter account and on her official Instagram account. In addition, invitations to the service were sent from her city email account, according to the board’s opinion.

Conyears-Ervin began hosting a nightly prayer group during the COVID-19 lockdowns and continues to host prayer groups on a public Facebook page created solely for that purpose. She often posts religious and inspirational messages to the 3,400-member group from her personal Facebook page.

However, online flyers that list Conyears-Ervin as the host of the prayer group identify her as “Chicago City Treasurer” and use her official city portrait, which shows her in front of a Chicago flag.

Chicago taxpayers paid $100,000 to resolve a lawsuit filed by the two employees fired by Conyears-Ervin in November 2020. That settlement, approved by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Had the settlement been even one dollar more, it would have required City Council approval under city rules. That would have required Conyears-Ervin’s colleagues to approve — or reject — city lawyers’ recommendation to resolve the case before a trial.

The two employees also alleged Conyears-Ervin used her assistant to run personal errands, including grocery shopping and planning her daughter’s birthday party. In addition, the treasurer’s former employees claimed she asked BMO Harris Bank, which does business with the city, to offer a mortgage to the owner of a West Side church who also rents space to her husband’s aldermanic office.

Conyears-Ervin told ABC7-TV that she did nothing wrong in advocating for the mortgage, saying she had an obligation to help all Chicagoans.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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