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Emanuel loses big on ethics reform vote

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with medifollowing City Council meeting Wednesday December 12 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with media following City Council meeting Wednesday, December 12, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 7, 2013 5:47PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday lost his first City Council vote—even after watering down his latest round of ethics reforms and dropping plans to empower the City Council’s inspector general to investigate anonymous complaints against aldermen and their employees.

The Rules Committee tabled Emanuel’s revised ordinance by an overwhelming vote of 25-to-3.

Rules Committee meetings normally attract only a handful of aldermen.

Thursday’s heavy attendance was triggered by opposition to an ordinance repeatedly rewritten to satisfy aldermen, only to fall woefully short, in part, because it was dropped on their desks just a few minutes before the meeting started.

Some aldermen complained that they had not yet read the ordinance and didn’t trust the assurance that anonymous complaints had been stricken. Others seemed to be operating under the assumption that anonymous complaints were still allowed.

Still more were concerned that signed and sworn complaints that now need Board of Ethics approval before the legislative inspector general could investigate would no longer need that sign-off.

Aldermen were not appeased by Emanuel’s decision to double the fine for filing a false complaint — to $2,000.

“That is the cost to dirty up an alderman. This is something that can be built into a campaign expense. It costs two grand to get a leg up on an incumbent alderman by filing a frivolous claim,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

“No one is looking to protect aldermen or their staff from legitimate complaints…The concern is that this will be used as a blunt instrument to hurt aldermen that someone either wants to take down in an election or an alderman who is making decisions on behalf of their constituents that person may not like.”

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.

Emanuel 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 alienated aldermen with a sweeping demand for two years’ worth of time sheets for full- and part-time City Council employees and by personally billing Chicago taxpayers for $270,625 in 2012 and $305,500 since he started work on Nov. 13, 2011.

The Rules Committee will meet again Monday in hopes of salvaging the mayor’s ordinance. If not, Emanuel can say that he tried, plans to keep trying and never expected to get his way on everything.

“Will there be changes? There might be. I didn’t expect everybody to take what I said and Xerox it. On the other hand, I expect them to hue to the goal of making sure that we hold everybody in public life accountable,” the mayor said shortly before Thursday’s defeat.

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