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Burke's Finance Committee Refuses To Give City IG Workers Compensation Databases For Review

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 26, 2012 7:35PM

2011_8_3_ferguson_IG.jpg In a classic case of unstoppable force meeting immovable object Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson is facing resistance from Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who has blocked Ferguson’s attempts to gain access to databases related to the city’s civilian employee workers compensation program.

Ferguson’s office sent a formal written request for the databases to the Finance Committee (which is chaired by Burke) in May hoping to investigate how the city reimburses employees injured on the job, also known as “duty disability.” The program is managed and insured by the city, so it stands to reason Ferguson wanted to review the databases to see if—or more likely, where—there may be inefficiencies and waste in the program.

The Inspector General’s office received a letter of denial dated June 6 from Marla Kaiden, Chief Administration Officer of the Finance Committee, claiming that matters pertaining to the committee fell under the jurisdiction of the newly created Legislative Inspector General’s office and asked Ferguson to give a “compelling reason why his office should audit the program.” (As if Burke having sole authority to settle and process workers comp claims wasn’t enough.)

Ferguson sent a second request for the databases in mid-June, citing that his office routinely audits city programs like the workers compensation program for signs of abuse and inefficiency, and referenced a recent Chicago Sun-Times series on suspected abuses in the police and firefighters disability pay programs. “Blocking IGO access is especially egregious in this case, as recent press reports have detailed anecdotal evidence of a city program very much in need of outside review, hopefully leading to improvements and savings to taxpayers,” Ferguson wrote.

Kaiden replied in a letter dated July 24 that claimed Ferguson’s had no jurisdiction in this case because the duty disability program “governed by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, not an ordinance of the City of Chicago.” Kaiden made the claim the Finance Committee “provides administrative support, subject to the oversight of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.”

We’re surprised it took this long before someone decided to deny Ferguson’s office access to records by playing the Legislative IG office card. (It’s also worth noting that Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan’s office has already run out of money and has requested more funding.) And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a city or county office deny an Inspector General’s investigation by claiming their office didn’t fall under an IGO’s watch. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez denied a request from County IG Patrick Blanchard for records pertaining to the investigation of the death of David Koschman.

With the Sun-Times recent series on probable disability pay abuses and a city government with a budget that’s barely balanced, Ferguson’s office made a compelling case that the duty disability program has a significant financial impact on the city budget. Duty Disability costs for 2011 are estimated to be $115 million, while $97.5 million was appropriated for 2012.

Ferguson versus Burke is a chess match we’d pay to see any day. This story bears watching as it develops. Ferguson, in a statement to media, said his office is weighing all options to obtain the databases.