With 2 Vacant Seats, Ethics Board Cancels Meeting, Leaving Case Against Conyears-Ervin in Limbo Before Election

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)

The Chicago Board of Ethics canceled its meeting set for Monday, leaving the ethics probe into City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin in limbo a week before she is set to face voters in her bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.

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A majority of the Ethics Board was unable to attend the meeting set for 3 p.m. Monday in person, forcing the cancellation, Board Chair William Conlon told WTTW News. One seat on the seven-member board has been vacant since July 2022, while another has been vacant since March 2023, Conlon said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson should “quickly” nominate Chicagoans to fill those vacancies, which occurred under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and ask the Chicago City Council to swiftly confirm his picks, Conlon said.

A spokesperson for Johnson said his administration “is reviewing and vetting candidates for multiple boards, including Ethics. Once that process is completed, the candidates will be introduced to City Council.”

The cancellation of the Ethics Board meeting leaves the pending probe against Conyears-Ervin up in the air, four months after the Ethics Board ratified Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s determination that 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.

Each violation of the law could trigger a fine of $20,000.

A city spokesperson for Conyears-Ervin did not directly address the findings of the inspector general in a statement sent to WTTW News in January, and declined to comment Monday.

“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 sent in January.

A spokesperson for Conyears-Ervin’s campaign also declined to comment.

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

Conyears-Ervin, a Democrat, is running to represent Illinois’ 7th Congressional District. Davis has held that seat since 1997, but faces four challengers, including Conyears-Ervin and three-time candidate Kina Collins.

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.

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 the flyer posted in January 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.

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

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