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City Council Talk On Openness And Transparency Just Talk

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 13, 2014 9:15PM

Photo credit: Milosh Kosanovich

Remember a few weeks back when City Council said they would soon begin the process of eliminating Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan’s office and replacing Khan with Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson because they didn’t want a lack of oversight to drag on?

Guess which branch of municipal government is now stalling on that?

We can’t say we didn’t see this coming. Neither can Sun-Times City Hall correspondent Fran Spielman, who notes this is the latest in a pattern by aldermanic infighting and hubris. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) who is spearheading the ordinance to eliminate Khan’s OLIG office, also has a proposed ordinance to establish an independent budget office. The problem with that is Pawar’s colleagues, led by Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), want to hire former Ald. Helen Shiller to head the department, while Pawar believes other candidates should be interviewed.

The dispute between Austin and Pawar centers on independence, integrity and expertise. Pawar questions whether Shiller, who for decades was a reliable “nay” vote on several ordinances, has the independence and qualifications to head the budget office. Austin is insulted Pawar wants an actual hiring process to play out instead of simply appointing Shiller.

Unless Austin gets her way, she and Ald. Ed Burke (14th) have been blocking Pawar’s ordinance to eliminate the OLIG, Spielman writes, because “it’s not a priority with voters and that aldermen would be making a grave mistake by empowering Ferguson.”

Except there’s one wrinkle in Pawar’s ordinance that would be beneficial to City Council: if passed, Ferguson’s office would be prohibited from launching investigations against aldermen based on anonymous complaints. NBC Chicago’s Mark W. Anderson wrote in August that curious lack of whistleblower protection has “a chilling effect on openness and transparency. Not to mention the ability for aldermen to game the system.”

City Council has dragged their heels on accountability ever since Richard M. Daley first suggested they fall under the OIG’s purview in 2009. They created the office that was eventually staffed by Khan but waited 18 months to do so. Then they gave Khan an initial $60,000 budget he would almost certainly spend, and handcuffed him with the same restrictions on opening investigations and not being able to use anonymous tips to launch them.

That Khan was still able to do his job, in spite of these obstacles, and piss off enough aldermen that they want to shut his office down is a testament to his determination to make the best of a rigged situation. But we all know in the end City Council can be its own worst enemy.