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City Council may rebel against Emanuel over ethics reform

Mayor Rahm Emanuel risks losing his first City Council vote unless he softens his latest round of ethics reforms — by dropping plans to empower the City Council’s inspector general to investigate “written anonymous complaints” against aldermen, according to the mayor’s floor leader.

The surprise assessment from Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) follows a sharply worded dissenting opinion from Ald. Will Burns (4th), who served on the ethics task force that recommended the latest round of corruption-fighting reforms.

“Will Burns was strong in his dissent. He made it clear to his colleagues that he feels strongly about it. I would assume that people would be prone to listen to what he had to say,” O’Connor said.

“If [mayoral aides] leave it alone and don’t try to round up votes for it, it’ll fail. Even if they do [lobby hard], it might fail. The administration put it in based on the recommendations of the committee. They see Will’s point. I don’t know that they want to take on the Council on that issue.”

Burns refused to comment on the controversy, referring the Chicago Sun-Times to his written dissent.

In it, Burns warned that allowing anonymous complaints to be made against the legislative branch would “contravene the legislative intent” of the City Council when it created its own inspector general and “release a torrent of frivolous and spurious charges, since aldermen are so highly visible in their local communities and in city government.”

Scarce city resources would have to be allocated to investigate “thousands” of complaints, he warned.

“Aldermen consistently voiced their concern that the legislative IG’s office must not be co-opted by frivolous, political or malicious complaints,” Burns wrote.

“The Council’s position was that sworn complaints were a safety measure that could guard against individuals using the LIG as a weapon to score political points.”

When aldermen hired their own inspector general — resisting then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s efforts to give Inspector General Joe Ferguson that power — they mandated signed and sworn complaints and prior authorization from a do-nothing Board of Ethics that has since been revamped by Emanuel.

The mayor wanted to lift that political protection by allowing “written anonymous complaints” against aldermen and City Council employees as well as written complaints initiated by the Council’s handpicked inspector general.

The proposal went over like a lead balloon with aldermen, who insist they’re ready for reform, just not the kind that allows challengers to dish anonymous, phony dirt that smears the incumbent.

Since then, Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan has further alienated aldermen with a sweeping demand for two years’ worth of time sheets for full- and part-time City Council employees and by billing Chicago taxpayers for $145,000 for the first seven months of 2012 for, what was supposed to be a part-time job.

Last month, Khan noted that his semi-annual report documented “over 30 active investigations” still being “investigated and managed by me alone on a semi-full-time basis.”

Based on that volume of work, he asked for an additional $200,000 in 2012 and even more this year.

A $94,000 amendment to Emanuel’s 2013 budget subsequently increased Khan’s annual budget from a revised $260,000 in 2012 and $354,000 this year.

Asked whether he’s concerned about Khan’s billings, O’Connor said, “Now, they’re gonna give him help so he won’t be doing it all by himself. Hopefully, that reins in the spending a little bit.”

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