Ethics reforms watered down to satisfy aldermen
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 11, 2013 5:14PM
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:25AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday snatched legislative victory from the jaws of defeat — by further watering down his latest round of ethics reforms to satisfy aldermen dead-set against allowing the City Council’s handpicked inspector general to investigate anonymous complaints against them.
Anonymous complaints against aldermen and their employees are now completely off-limits amid fears that challengers or disgruntled constituents could use anonymous and phony allegations to smear the incumbent.
Signed and sworn complaints would still need a “finding of reasonable cause” by the revamped Board of Ethics before the legislative inspector general could investigate.
Emanuel’s plan to establish a two-year revolving door during which departing aldermen would be prohibited from lobbying City Hall was reduced to one year and the effective date was pushed back to Jan. 1, 2014.
And those who lobby on behalf of not-for-profit organizations would not have to register as lobbyists.
The changes were enough to convince a Committee on Rules and Ethics that had tabled the mayor’s ordinance just four days ago to swallow hard and approve the Emanuel-sponsored reforms.
“They made a few modifications, answered a lot of questions. Frankly, a lot of it was [to] allow people to ask questions and try not to jam it through in such a short time frame,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
Emanuel was asked whether he believes the City Council “looks bad” by taking a stand against anonymous complaints.
“First of all, I disagree and I’ve said that…It applies to me. It should apply” to the City Council, he said.
The mayor then reminded reporters that he signed six executive orders tightening city ethics rules during his first few hours in office and cleaned house at the city’s do-nothing Board of Ethics.
“Five years ago, three years ago, 10 years ago, people were always arguing about having an IG for the City Council. We now have an IG. I will not give up in my determination to see change through. But I will not let you wipe [out] everything [else] that was done in the last 18 months as if it doesn’t exist and focus on one part,” he said.
The salvaged ordinance paves the way for Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Legislative IG Faisal Khan to co-exist and become investigators only.
Violators of the city’s ethics ordinance would then be prosecuted by the Law Department with the Board of Ethics holding hearings and recommending suspensions, firing, fines and other punishment.
Currently, the inspector general’s office investigates wrongdoing and recommends punishment to city department heads, who must act on those recommendations or explain why not.
Emanuel’s ordinance also would empower both IG’s to settle cases and require Ferguson to begin his investigations no more than two years after a violation occurred and to complete those investigations within two years.
Both IG’s would be prohibited from running for office for two years after leaving their jobs.
The process for selecting an inspector general would be modified to include a Blue Ribbon Panel that would propose candidates to the mayor.