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New City Council watchdog to be kept on short leash

City Council meeting Council Chambers City Hall. Thursday July 28 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

City Council meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Thursday, July 28, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 16, 2011 8:16AM



With a $60,000-a-year budget, no staff and his hands pretty well tied behind his back, former New York City inspector general Faisal Khan got the go-ahead Monday to spend the next four years investigating City Council corruption.

The Rules Committee approved Khan’s nomination after being assured that Chicago’s first-ever legislative inspector general would be a part-time employee without benefits paid $250 to $300 an hour who intends to practice law on the side.

Khan acknowledged that the ground rules aldermen have established for the job are dramatically different from the restrictions he faced in New York.

In order to investigate Chicago aldermen, their staff members and committee employees, Khan will either need a signed and sworn complaint and prior authorization from a Board of Ethics with a do-nothing track record or the OK from the City Council’s Rules Committee to investigate an anonymous tip.

The ordinance also includes a two-year statute of limitations and a requirement that investigative subjects be notified within seven days. The Board of Ethics will serve as judge and jury after the fact.

Why would Khan accept a job where he is so hamstrung?

“I don’t know if there is ever a job [that has] enough power to do the job. But, I will do what I can with the resources that I have,” said Khan, 38.

“I take the glass-half-full approach and the fact that they have created this position. They have taken the affirmative step of having oversight here. I look forward to that challenge.”

What happens if Khan finds that he lacks the power or the resources to do the job effectively?

“I don’t anticipate quitting. If I come across that situation, then I will have no hesitation in going to the committee and asking them … to provide me with whatever resources I need,” Khan said.

“If they cannot provide those resources, my reports will consist of all the information that took place in this investigation. If I was not able to retrieve certain information because of a lack of resources, that will be documented.”

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) has pointed to the restrictions, the $60,000 budget and no staff to support his claim that Khan will “end up being window dressing” no matter how much “integrity and independence” he may have.

Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) agreed.

Noting that he has worked for the city for 33 years, Cullerton said, “People who sit in this chamber and work for us should be held to the same standards that our city employees are held to. ... I’m not supporting this, only because I don’t think the ordinance goes far enough.”

The watered-down inspector general ordinance was approved by a divided City Council in May 2010 as an alternative to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to empower Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate aldermen and their employees.

But, aldermen waited 18 months to fill the job, fueling speculation that the new sleuth will do little to stop corruption that has sent 31 aldermen or former aldermen to prison since the 1970s.



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