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Waguespack Offers Alternative To Chicago Infrastructure Trust

By Chuck Sudo in News on Apr 24, 2012 3:40PM

32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack
During last week's City Council meeting Mayor Rahm Emanuel, through Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Patrick O'Connor (40th) tabled a vote on his controversial Chicago Infrastructure Trust until tomorrow, and said, after conferring with aldermen concerned about the ordinance he's already made all the changes to the plan he plans to make and it's time to put the plan in place.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) is among those who wants to get more information on oversight for the Trust before it goes to a vote. Waguespack sent a letter to Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson asking for an advisory opinion on the Trust. Waguespack asked two specific questions.

1. What, if any, aspects of the proposed Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT or Trust) would be within the IGO's jurisdiction?

2. Whether the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act would apply in any way to the CIT.

Ferguson answered Waguespack's letter and posted his response on the IGO's website. (PDF)

Ferguson said it's his opinion the CIT could fall under IGO oversight, including, but not limited to:

  • The CIT is not a separate, stand-alone unit of government; it is a City-chartered and managed not for profit entity, therefore making the CIT a City "program", over which the IGO is given a broad grant of general jurisdiction under MCC ยง 2-56-030 (c).
  • City employees may be overseeing the CIT in an ex officio capacity.
  • CIT board members will be Mayoral appointees.
  • City funds will be used as seed and start-up money for CIT.

Ferguson also said he has "several serious concerns" about the CIT as it stands.

It is important to note that even under the broadest interpretation of the IGO's jurisdiction, the CIT would operate under significantly less scrutiny and transparency than City departments. Among the oversight and regulatory provisions that do not appear to apply to the CIT are the City Personnel Rules, the Ethics Ordinance, and Shakman decrees. Therefore, while the IGO may have jurisdiction to investigate or otherwise review aspects of the CIT, there appear to be no standards of conduct or performance against which to measure the CIT or hold it accountable. And, in contrast to the City's and IGO's recent and notable efforts to make public as much data regarding City operations as possible, there is no similar provision for CIT to be equally open to public scrutiny.

In addition, Trust projects in Sister Agencies may be beyond IGO jurisdiction. Therefore, a category of projects may exist for which oversight would be uncertain. The City's Sister
Agencies, a series of government entities tasked with providing services to Chicago businesses and residents, have significantly varied levels of oversight in place to protect that agency's resources and Chicago taxpayers from unscrupulous vendors and employees - from robust to none. Sometimes, as is the case with the CPS, oversight is independent and effective. Other times, as is the case with the PBC, the Sister Agency board purports to contract out oversight duties and in no appreciable way functions as a standalone, independent oversight body. In other cases, such as with the Chicago Park District, independent oversight does not exist in any form.

Waguespack is now offering an alternative that would give City Council more oversight over the CIT. It includes, among other things:

  • Giving the Council final approval over all projects
  • Requiring the Council to approve the Trusts board of directors
  • Specify the Trust is a "subsidiary body" of the city and therefore subject to oversight from the IGO, Open Meetings Act and FOIA.
  • City Council would have final say in the event of a disagreement between them and the Trust's board.
  • Operate under the City's Ethics Code, and its procurement rules and regulations.

It's unknown how deep opposition to the Trust runs among City Council. Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said last week he knew of two of his peers who were set to vote against it. As it's currently written, the Trust would be incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit and therefore not subject to oversight via FOIA or the Open Meetings Act. A plan this large, with private financing over public infrastructure projects hanging in the balance, should not be subject to a "business as usual" vote.