A blue ribbon panel Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8) assembled to find a new Legislative Inspector General is expected to make its recommendations in “the next few days”, one member on the selection team told Aldertrack yesterday. The news came the same day Ald. Michele Smith (43) announced she has the votes needed to eliminate that office and put the responsibility of investigating aldermen under the jurisdiction of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
Alejandra Garza, one of the five members of the selection committee, confirmed with Aldertrack last night that, “the search process is coming to an end and [they] will be making their recommendation in the next few days.” Harris created the panel in November to find a replacement for the Council’s former LIG Faisal Khan after his term expired. But Garza wouldn’t confirm how many applicants applied or remain for consideration.
That candidate could be announced as early as Monday, according to a memo Ald. Pat O’Connor’s office sent to aldermen yesterday afternoon. The memo says his Workforce Development Committee will meet Monday afternoon to consider Ald. Smith’s merger ordinance, in addition to potentially “accept[ing] and consider[ing] a substitute ordinance that retains the Office of the Legislative Inspector General and enhances the powers and duties of that Office in place of the above ordinance.”
While neither O’Connor’s nor Harris’ office could confirm that a candidate would be announced at that meeting by our publication deadline, O’Connor said in December–when he held a subject hearing on the two ordinances–that he would not allow a vote on either until an LIG candidate was found. He reasoned that all 50 aldermen should have the opportunity to decide and that decision shouldn’t be made until then.
“You will not be making that choice in a vacuum, because you will also have an opportunity to understand who this selection committee has picked and have an understanding of what that person’s thought process is,” O’Connor told aldermen at the meeting.
When asked multiple times by Council colleges and reporters why the city needed to find a new LIG when a majority of the Council seemed to favor eliminating the office, O’Connor said the ordinance that created the office legally requires a search for a replacement take place should the office become vacant.
“By January we will be voting on one or the other,” he promised his colleagues.
But Ald. Smith thinks the Council has waited long enough. She held a press conference at City Hall yesterday morning announcing she has the votes to discharge her merger ordinance from Ald. O’Connor’s committee at the full City Council meeting next Wednesday. The procedural move, known as a Rule 41, would need a majority of the full Council to bring the ordinance to the floor for consideration. Another alderman could object the motion, but if the item makes it to the floor, the full Council can vote to amend or pass it. 27 aldermen signed the Rule 41 notice Smith filed with the City Clerk’s Office.
“Our numbers in support of this effort reflect the cries of Chicagoans who demand accountability of their lawmakers, particularly at this significant time in our city’s history. There have never been this many Aldermen to co-sponsor a ‘Rule 41’ to bring about true, lasting change,” Smith said at the press conference, with ten of her council colleagues echoing her call to put the issue to rest.
Hours later, after O’Connor sent out the memo, Ald. Smith told Aldertrack, “Considering a substitute ordinance and a [LIG] candidate on such short notice would be a huge mistake for the City Council.”
“None of us know if there is a new LIG and if so, who it is,” she added.
While this debate over who should investigate aldermen has been going on for more than a year, support for the merger ordinance “surged” this past fall, according to Smith, when former LIG Khan’s term expired. Before he left the post, he claimed his office was designed to fail because his $354,000 budget barely covered expenses, and his inability to investigate anonymous complaints made him powerless.
And when Harris announced in November she had created a selection committee to find Khan’s replacement, Ald. Smith expressed concern that the city would hire a new LIG before the Council had an opportunity to consider her merger plan.
She and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) introduced a second ordinance to strengthen the LIG’s office. That ordinance, which Smith described as a parliamentary “plan b”, would increase the OLIG’s annual budget to at least $500,000 and authorizes the LIG to initiate its own investigations without prior approval from the BOE and a signed and sworn complaint. The possible substitute O’Connor referred to in his memo could further amend that plan, but neither Smith nor Pawar know who is drafting it.