An ordinance merging the Council’s Office of the Legislative Inspector General with Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office cleared its committee hurdle Monday, but sponsors and co-sponsors cautioned that it was far from a done deal. “As you heard in some of the discussion this afternoon, there’s some aldermen who think we still might not have it right, but this is a legislative process, it’s not a legislative finality,” Workforce Development and Audit Chairman Pat O’Connor (40) told reporters after the vote.
Attendance (10/18 Committee Members Present): Chairman Pat O’Connor (40), Will Burns (4), Raymond Lopez (15), Derrick Curtis (17), Danny Solis (25), Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35), Marge Laurino (39), Brendan Reilly (42), Michele Smith (43), Tom Tunney (44)
Other Aldermen present: Michelle Harris (8), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), George Cardenas (12), Matt O’Shea (19), Rick Munoz (22), Walter Burnett (27), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31) Deb Mell (33), James Cappleman (46) Ameya Pawar (47), Joe Moore (49)
Chairman O’Connor kept the meeting brief, refusing to replay last month’s marathon subject hearing on proposed changes to the Office of the Legislative Inspector General. The plan the committee advanced today would eliminate the Legislative Inspector General’s Office, which is currently vacant, and put the responsibility of investigating aldermen and their staff under the jurisdiction of the city’s other Inspector General who is already in charge of monitoring the rest of city hall. Under the plan, the 2016 budget the council approved for the OLIG’s office would be transferred to the IG.
A few aldermen, including Ald. Tom Tunney (44) and Ald. George Cardenas (12), said they wanted Board of Ethics Director Steve Berlin to again outline changes. But Chairman O’Connor refused, saying aldermen had already been briefed and should return to the Finance Committee, which was into its fourth hour of debate on billions of dollars in bond issuances. “I’d like to cut everybody loose and get them back there,” he said. The meeting lasted just under half an hour.
Ald. Will Burns (4), a co-sponsor of Ald. Michele Smith (43) and Ald. Ameya Pawar’s (47) ordinance to merge Council’s watchdog office with the City’s, was the sole alderman to voice concern about changes to the office.
“I raise these questions because as a member of the 2011 Ethics Reform Task Force, there were a number of concerns about the very political nature of our job,” Ald. Burns said, “Sometimes when you tell people ‘no’ and you make difficult decisions over land use, over TIF funding, over public subsidies, CDBG, whether someone can purchase a vacant lot, you could anger those people and they could file complaints and use, or abuse, unfortunately, the ethics process to harass and to seek retaliation.”
Burns said he’d like to see more protections against false claims against aldermen, and perhaps a special City Council committee, similar to the State Legislature’s bicameral Legislative Ethics Commission, to “have some sort of oversight over whether or not the Inspector General conducts an investigation… as a check or protection against what can be fairly sweeping powers.” He said he worried that it would be politically difficult to amend provisions of the ordinance in the future without it looking like aldermen were “watering it down.”
Ald. Joe Moore (49) and Ald. Cardenas both said they understood Ald. Burns’ concerns, as they were both targets of former LIG Faisal Khan. “You know what? I survived,” Moore said, “It’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I think we really need to send a very strong message to our constituents that we don’t believe ourselves to be above the law.”
Ald. Pawar, a co-sponsor of the ordinance, said there were certain checks granted to the Committee on Committees, Rules, and Ethics, that he believed addressed Burns’ concerns. After the successful vote, Pawar compared the focus on Khan and Ferguson to the three year long fight over the establishment of a Council Office of Financial Analysis. “I think for too long, people focused on personality rather than structure. I think it’s the same thing here,” he told Aldertrack, stopping short of calling Monday’s vote a victory.
Shortly after the committee meeting, Ald. Burns and Ald. O’Connor were spotted in the doorway to Council Chambers with their heads together.
Last month, during the subject hearing on the IG ordinance, O’Connor refused to bring the item for a vote because the city was in the midst of hiring a new Legislative Inspector General. O’Connor reasoned that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Council to eliminate the office until a new LIG candidate was found. But late Friday, following a closed door meeting with representatives from the Mayor’s office, O’Connor reversed course and told the Sun-Times that Ald. Smith’s ordinance would be the only item under consideration.