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City Council IG's Days Appear To Be Numbered

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 3, 2014 9:25PM

Chicago City Council Inspector General Faisal Khan.
Let’s indulge in a moment of real talk: Faisal Khan efforts as Chicago’s Legislative Inspector General have been Herculean, if not Sisyphean. Khan was named the watchdog over City Council in November 2011 and arrived with an impressive resume including a stint as inspector general for the New York City Department of Investigation and, to the collective skepticism of those who understand politics in Chicago, a promise from aldermen that he would be able to do his job without interference.

Now let’s fast forward nearly three years to find that same City Council ready to vote to close Khan’s office and—in a true “hell freezes over” moment—transfer the ability to investigate aldermen for wrongdoing to the office of City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

Either Khan managed to do his job to the best of his ability despite the shade thrown by City Council or he wasn’t as skilled as his pedigree indicated. Regardless, Khan was doomed from the start.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) says he has the backing of 30 aldermen for an ordinance that would abolish the Office of Legislative Inspector General and transfer the power to investigate aldermen to Ferguson’s office. Pawar told the Sun-Times he expects to move fast on the legislation, since Khan already spent his $354,000 budget with four months left in the year and nary an indictment to show for it in his nearly three years as OLIG. Pawar, unlike some aldermen who have resisted oversight, said this needs to be expedited because of the roadblocks that have been thrown Khan’s way

Per the Sun-Times:

”Part of the reason we are where we are is because of the handcuffs we put on the legislative inspector general. It’s difficult for him to do his job. If we take the handcuffs off and give [Ferguson] the resources he needs to do the job right, it’ll start reassuring taxpayers.”

Finding the resources to do his job correctly has been one of Khan’s primary issues. When he was appointed OLIG, he was handed a budget of only $60,000, which he promptly spent like a sailor on shore leave. This was after City Council dragged their collective feet for 18 months before hiring Khan as their watchdog. Funding became a regular point of contention between Khan, aldermen and eventually Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom Khan criticized a few weeks back as not being as committed to transparency and accountability as Khan thought.

So Khan learned what those who voted for Emanuel did; the mayor’s promise of transparency was the first campaign promise he broke after taking office.

But Khan continued to work, despite the roadblocks. A request for time sheets of all full- and part-time employees of City Council dating back to 2010 to look for political hires was met with a collective, “Who do you think you are?” Ald. Joe Moore (49th) was revealed as the subject of multiple investigations involving Moore allegedly firing a staff member for informing City Hall that campaign work was being done in Moore's ward office. Moore denied the allegations and joined the growing call to oust Khan, who spent as much time defending his office and its limited scope as he did actually investigating aldermen. Here’s what Khan told DNAInfo Chicago’s Ted Cox in August 2013.

"All we do is investigate and report," Khan said. "I can't create complaints. The law doesn't allow me to. We are a reactive agency."

He added his office is strict about confidentiality.

"These are processes that have been set up in place to make sure that everybody gets their due process," Khan said.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, was the subject of an investigation by Khan. O’Connor promptly supported an ordinance for tighter watchdog ethics a week after that probe was made public; Emanuel was mum about the investigation of O’Connor.

The game was rigged against Khan from the start, which makes us marvel at how thoroughly he pissed off so many aldermen in such short a time. Under the guidelines set by City Council, any investigation Khan undertakes against an alderman must receive approval from the Chicago Board of Ethics which, coincidentally, has never found evidence of wrongdoing by an alderman. As NBC Chicago’s Mark W. Anderson notes, Khan can only open an investigation once “a signed and sworn complaint from someone charging wrongdoing” is received.

The lack of transparency is shocking, even for City Council. Anderson writes:

That means someone has to rat out a sitting alderman—someone very likely to work for the alderman or engage in city or neighborhood business with him or her—by detailing a specific complaint and signing their name to it for all to see. Talk about a chilling effect on openness and transparency. Not to mention the ability for aldermen to game the system.

Yet in spite of all of that going in their favor (the OLIG can be removed from office before his term ends for cause) and several attempts to eliminate Khan’s office, aldermen are now willing to back Pawar’s ordinance to allow the dogged Ferguson, with the ability to subpoena individuals and a larger budget at his disposal to investigate them?

Something doesn’t compute here. Back when Khan was named OLIG, I wrote that the City’s Board of Ethics has never found evidence of wrongdoing by an alderman, despite 31 aldermen having been sent to prison since the 1970s. If City Council believes they’re going to have an easier time dealing with Ferguson, who is enjoying better relations with the Emanuel administration these days, let’s hope they’re in for a rude awakening.