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Emanuel names four reformers to revamp city ethics code

Updated: January 8, 2012 8:20AM

On the day another Illinois Governor is sentenced to prison, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking four proven reformers to overhaul and strengthen Chicago’s ethics ordinance.

The Ethics Reform Task Force charged with delivering on one of Emanuel’s key campaign promises will be chaired by Cindi Canary, former director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Other members include former state senator, comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Dawn Clark Netsch; former federal prosecutor Sergio Acosta and Ald. Will Burns (4th).

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley reacted to virtually every new scandal by apologizing and ordering another round of ethics reforms. None of it worked to stop corruption in the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals, among others.

Emanuel isn’t waiting for the first big scandal. He’s giving the task force four months to scour the country for “best practices,” take expert and public testimony and re-write an “outdated and vague” ordinance that, he argues, limits the city’s ability to crack down on corruption and waste.

“Every time the house is on fire, we get busy with a re-write. Every time there are flames, we get out the bucket. This is more pro-active. Let’s look at what’s working and what isn’t. Let’s do it now before some big crisis,” Canary said.

“We’re never gonna create a perfect system, but our goal is to create a much better system. ... We’ll probably find places where the ordinance is not strong enough. Maybe enforcement provisions are lacking. We’ll think about the kinds of things the public is looking to see to reinforce their confidence. You can design statutorily elegant programs. But, you also need a culture that supports your ordinance. You need leadership.”

Canary said there is no topic that’s off-limits. In addition to examining the work of the city’s do-nothing Board of Ethics, the task force could also address Emanuel’s unfulfilled campaign promise to broaden the powers of the city’s inspector general and empower the inspector general to investigate aldermen instead of letting the City Council have its own sleuth with his hands tied behind his back.

The chairman was asked whether the ethics panel might also examine the possibility of cutting the City Council in half, a controversial subject that Emanuel broached with aldermen during the transition.

“I don’t know until I talk to my colleagues what the taste for that is. But, I know it’ll come up,” she said.

Since taking office, Emanuel has made ethics reform a cornerstone of his new administration as if to draw the curtain on the scandal-scarred Daley years.

During his first few hours in office, Emanuel signed a series of executive orders that, among other things, slammed the “revolving door” that has allowed city employees and mayoral appointees to lobby City Hall. They are now banned from doing so for at least two years after leaving their jobs.

Emanuel also swore off campaign contributions from city lobbyists and insulated city employees from pressure they had felt to give gifts or make political contributions to the mayor, department heads or city supervisors.

More recently, the mayor proposed a new ordinance to “reign in the influence” of City Hall lobbyists and lift the veil on their influence-peddling activities.

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