Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin Fined $60K for Violating Ethics Ordinance

Melissa Conyears-Ervin is pictured in a campaign photo. (Credit: Campaign photo)Melissa Conyears-Ervin is pictured in a campaign photo. (Credit: Campaign photo)

The Chicago Board of Ethics fined City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin $60,000 for violating the government ethics ordinance by using city resources to host a prayer service.

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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 was the subject of the board’s action.

A spokesperson for Conyears-Ervin did not immediately respond to a text message from WTTW News seeking comment about the board’s action.

The board found Conyears-Ervin committed 12 total violations of Chicago’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance for violating her fiduciary duty to the city, for the unauthorized use of city property and prohibited political activity.

The board levied the maximum fine of $5,000 for each individual violation of the ordinance, which occurred between September 2019 and September 2022, in accordance with the terms of the Governmental Ethics Ordinance in effect at that time, officials said.

The unanimous vote from the Board of Ethics ratifies Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s determination that Conyears-Ervin violated the city’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance. It is the first time an official elected citywide has been found in violation of the city’s main ethics law by both the Ethics Board and inspector general.

Witzburg told WTTW News the Board of Ethics’ action on Monday was “heartening.”

“It reflects the importance of the rigorous investigatory work our office has done,” Witzburg said. “There is a great deal at stake here: the legitimacy of local government.”

Conyears-Ervin still faces another probe by the Ethics Board for violating the city’s whistle-blower protections and misusing other city property. A decision in that case could come in May.

Conyears-Ervin is accused of firing two employees who warned her not to misuse city property for personal reasons.

Conyears-Ervin, a Democrat, unsuccessfully tried 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.

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 fired by Conyears-Ervin also alleged the treasurer 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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