Oversight of Chicago City Council coming soon

Oversight of Chicago City Council coming soon

At its next meeting in February, City Council will likely approve legislation to expand the scope of the inspector general’s role to overseeing aldermen.

On Jan. 14, a pair of Chicago aldermen made use of the City Council’s Rules of Order and Procedure to delay a vote that could subject aldermen to oversight by Inspector General Joe Ferguson. The rule invoked in this case, Rule 27, allows any two aldermen to defer a matter until the subsequent Council meeting, thereby allowing them additional time to gain support for their cause. Despite this procedural maneuver, however, many anticipate that the City Council will vote on, and pass, this oversight measure at its meeting on Feb. 10.

Watchdog oversight has been unpopular among a set of City Council members – so why is it likely that aldermen will vote in favor of oversight now? The deafening exit by City Council’s only official watchdog has left a vacuum, and an ever-growing group of aldermen has been making the necessary moves to ensure aldermanic oversight.

Public outcry for oversight led to City Council’s creation of the role of Legislative Inspector General, or LIG, in 2010. City Council hired Faisal Khan as LIG in 2011, although the Chicago Tribune and others have argued that the LIG position was a “toothless tiger.” Nonetheless, some oversight is surely better than none.

The City Council has gone without oversight since November when it allowed Khan to depart without engaging him for an additional term. However, before Khan’s term expired, aldermen had moved to merge the Office of the Inspector General with the Office of the Legislative Inspector General, giving Inspector General Joe Ferguson, whose office oversees other city employees, oversight over the City Council. Even before aldermen proposed this merger, other aldermen had on several occasions in 2015, attempted to introduce oversight measures. Each time, those attempts were stifled either by inaction or by direct opposition.

Prior to the January City Council meeting, Alderman Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, showed her cards by publicly declaring her intention to invoke Rule 41, another procedural maneuver used to call dormant legislation to the floor of City Council for a vote. Rule 41 has two elements: 1. To force a vote on an issue that has stalled in committee and 2. To call to a vote legislation that has already passed committee but has either been held by the chairman or has been deferred and published pursuant to Rule 27.

The City Council is no stranger to procedural maneuvers. The LIG fight only serves as an example of aldermen using parliamentary rules as delay tactics. Smith will still have to invoke Rule 41 to bring this issue to a vote in February; otherwise, the merger legislation will languish in the same way its predecessors have. But the growing list of aldermen in favor of reform, combined with the express support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader, indicates that true oversight is coming to the City Council, and soon.

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