Chicago aldermen look to kneecap oversight in City Council vote
Aldermen say they want oversight, but they don’t want anyone to be able to audit them. What do they have to hide?
Is America’s corruption capital finally getting its act together?
A groundswell of support for an ordinance that would finally bring effective oversight to City Council seemed to indicate the answer was yes.
Not so fast, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
The ordinance in question would place City Council members and their employees under the watchful eye of Inspector General Joe Ferguson. But reporter Fran Spielman writes that a working group of city aldermen is finalizing a change to that ordinance to protect aldermen from one of the inspector general’s most important powers: the ability to conduct audits.
City Council members are expected to pass the ordinance submitting themselves to oversight from Ferguson’s office on Feb. 10. But shielding aldermen and their staffs from true financial oversight would deal a huge blow to government-transparency and accountability advocates.
Removing Ferguson’s authority to audit programs within City Council would prevent effective oversight of the $66 million “menu” program, for example, wherein each alderman is given $1.32 million annually to spend in his or her ward as he or she wishes.
Examples of past menu-money misuse uncovered by the Chicago Tribune include spending on luxury vehicles, downtown parking and patronage hiring.
This change would also serve to shield the city’s grossly mismanaged workers’ compensation program from scrutiny. In 2012, longtime alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward, refused to let Ferguson look into his handling of the program, which pays out over $100 million each year – or $3,000 per city employee covered by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, according to Chicago-based workers’ compensation defense lawyer Eugene Keefe.
Chicago aldermen have been operating without any city oversight since November 2015 – when they ran out the clock on former Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan.
While Khan was effectively relegated to a lapdog position by the City Council, his office was able to produce a report showing more than half of Chicago aldermen took illegal campaign contributions in 2013.