Chicago City Council passes weakened oversight ordinance at Burke’s bidding
Chicago aldermen voted in favor of an ordinance that was changed to shield City Council from the auditing powers of Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
Members of Chicago City Council passed an ordinance Feb. 10 submitting themselves and their staffs to the oversight of Inspector General Joe Ferguson – but aldermen will still enjoy less scrutiny than everyone else in city government.
While the ordinance allows Ferguson to proactively investigate aldermen and their staffs for ethics violations, the inspector general’s office will not be allowed to review, audit or investigate waste and inefficiency in City Council programs.
The original oversight ordinance, which boasted support from a majority of Chicago aldermen as recently as last month, did not strip Ferguson of these auditing powers. But an amended “substitute ordinance” including the new protection from program audits was swapped in for a vote at the eleventh hour. Aldermen decided to put up the substitute ordinance for a vote Feb. 10 on a razor-thin 25-23 margin. They then voted 29-19 to pass the substitute ordinance.
“[A]ldermen squandered what could and should have been a singularly successful moment in the City’s civic history,” Ferguson wrote after the vote.
“Today’s oversight transfer legislation nudges the ball forward, but leaves Chicago with a form of oversight that is still separate (procedurally) and unequal (substantively), from the rest of City government.”
So who’s driving City Council’s oversight aversion? All signs point to the city’s most powerful alderman, Ed Burke.
In January, Burke used a procedural rule to delay the vote on the original oversight ordinance until February. After a committee of aldermen drafted changes to the ordinance, Burke then worked the City Council chambers for votes.
Chicago political reporter Paris Schutz tweeted that sources told him Burke was “aggressively trading favors for support of [the] watered-down Inspector General ordinance.”
What does Burke have to hide?
For one, Burke controls an incredibly bloated workers’ compensation program that pays out more than $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.
In 2012, Burke refused to let Ferguson look into his handling of the program. Also in 2012, the Chicago Police Department’s workers’ compensation system was the subject of a scathing Chicago Sun-Times investigation revealing gross mismanagement.
While transferring oversight of City Council to Ferguson’s office is nothing short of historic for America’s corruption capital, aldermen such as Burke have successfully shielded themselves from the scrutiny they deserve.