During a July 29 City Council meeting, aldermen considered whether or not to vote on a series of changes to Chicago’s ethics policies, including changes made to the Office of Legislative Inspector General (LIG) — the body responsible for investigating aldermen. There was even some discussion about whether or not the LIG was even necessary.

Although the city’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) can investigate most aspects of the city’s operations, it is expressly prohibited from investigating aldermen. In 2010, city legislators created the LIG to fill the gap.  However, since its creation, the LIG has been hamstrung by the fact that the office can’t launch an investigation without getting a go-ahead from the Chicago Board of Ethics, as well as the requirement that the office must notify the accused that the investigation is underway.

At last Wednesday’s council meeting, aldermen entertained a series of minor changes to the city’s ethics laws, including one notable proposal that calls for the LIG to “provide to the [ethics] board a summary of its investigation, supporting evidence and recommendation,” according to the text in the original resolution. The new resolution calls for the LIG to provide “all evidence supporting its findings” and “an index describing the evidence gathered during the investigation.”

In the run-up to the vote on the resolution, Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan sent out a press release urging aldermen to vote against the proposal, because it could lead to retaliation against people who filed ethics complaints.

“The evidence turned over would include complainants’ names, addresses, testimony, and other investigative materials,” Khan noted in the release. “This is flat out wrong and dangerous – it allows potential violators access to statements from witnesses who have testified confidentially and leaves these witnesses vulnerable to reprisal. Furthermore, forcing the [Office of Legislative Inspector General] to provide all of its evidentiary [sic] findings would reveal the Office’s investigative techniques, weakening its ability to enforce the ethics ordinance.”

On July 22, Khan sent another letter, complaining that his office wasn’t getting enough funding to keep operating. Unless something is done, he wrote, the office would run out of money by August 28, forcing it to shut down. The funding has been an ongoing issue since the position was created. In the past, Khan had insisted that he needed $1.5 million to do his job effectively. The office’s current annual budget is $354,000.

As the City Council prepared to vote on the changes, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said that the he felt that none of the changes that were proposed in the ordinance really address the city’s ethics issues. He urged his colleagues to have a serious discussion about merging the two inspectors general offices.

“What we need to do is have broader discussion, where everyone is in the single room, about what kind of oversight we want in our offices,” said Waguespack. “Doing it year-by-year, piecemeal, is a musical chairs of ethics. I think it would behoove us to look at, once and for all, putting the LIG under Inspector General’s office. I don’t think this piece [of legislation] does us any service.”

Ald. John Area (45th) said that, while he shared Waguespack’s concerns, the ordinance was the right way to go — even if it didn’t go far enough.

“We’ll get there, I know we’ll get there, but this ordinance isn’t against that,” he said.

Ald. Michelle Smith (43rd) urged the council to vote on the ordinance to merge the two offices, which she and 34 other aldermen recommended in September of last year.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said that, even if the council leaves the LIG office separate, the current situation is unsustainable.

“If we don’t want to merge [the two offices, we should introduce an ordinance and take handcuffs of the [LIG] office,” he said. “To me, the choice would be very simple – take the handcuffs of LIG or have an IG that oversees everything.”

Ald. John Cappleman (46th) said that he was willing to wait for the issue to be resolved gradually.

“It’s been my experience, as an openly gay man, that reform is incremental,” he said. “I continue to push for one city Inspector General, but I also understand politics is messy and it needs to be done in an incremental manner.”

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said that he spoke with Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who assured him, when evidence is brought before the ethics board, names could be redacted. Although he agreed that more could be done, he nonetheless voiced his support for the ordinance.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who has been investigated by Khan, said that he supports merging the offices.

“This little tempest in a teapot created by LIG highlights why we need to have one Inspector General, one professional Inspector general,” he said.

The council wound up approving the resolution 46-2, with Aldermen Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Tony Napolitano (41st) voting against it. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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