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Emanuel overhauls ethics board, dumps all 7 members

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Michael Gallagher newly appointed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new Ethics Reform Task force.

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Michael Gallagher, newly appointed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new Ethics Reform Task force.

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Updated: November 5, 2012 11:27AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday dumped Chicago’s entire Board of Ethics to prepare for the new role envisioned by his Ethics Reform Task Force: as powerful judge and jury punishing violators of the city’s ethics ordinance.

“I wanted to start with a new energy and a new commitment by a totally new board — all of ’em with the type of professionalism and commitment to raising the ethical standards, conduct and oversight in city government,” Emanuel said.

“With these reforms ... residents have a clear view of what they pay for, and elected officials have a clear view of who they work for,” he said.

The mayoral house-cleaning would replace all seven members of a Board of Ethics famous for never having taken action against a Chicago alderman during an era when dozens went to jail on federal corruption charges.

The new members include: former Cook County patronage monitor and Circuit Court Judge Julia Nowicki; former Illinois Appellate Court and Circuit Court Judge Michael Gallagher, a former attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; former longtime first deputy city budget director Russ Carlson, and Stephen Beard, executive vice president and general counsel of Heidrick & Struggles, a worldwide executive search firm. Beard will serve as chairman.

Rounding out the revamped, seven-member board are: Fran Grossman, director of the Chicago Microlending Institute, a program that trains nonprofit lenders to make micro-loans to small business; Daisy Lezama, interim director of policy implementation for the Community and Economic Development Association, and Mary Trout Carr, a pastor, theologian, educator and author.

Earlier this year, Emanuel’s Ethics Reform Task Force delivered a 67-page report that envisioned a powerful new role for a revamped Board of Ethics.

Instead of prodding the mayor to deliver on his unfulfilled campaign promise to expand the power of Inspector General Joe Ferguson, the task force recommended that Ferguson coexist with the City Council’s own inspector general for “three-to-five years” and that both IGs be 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.

Asked then why the task force chose to transfer the inspector general’s disciplinary powers to the do-nothing Board of Ethics, chairman Cindi Canary said “We’re trying to change it from being a paper tiger. Hopefully, we get a much more vigorous Board of Ethics. ... You change the people, you change the culture, and you require more transparency and reporting. You want people with some backbone who understand the law and are willing to take their brickbats if they screw up.”

Is Canary satisfied with the new board?

“On paper they look fabulous. You’ve got a couple of former judges. You’ve got a theologian. That checks a lot of boxes,” she said Wednesday.

“I just hope they hit the ground running. We’ve got to see what these people do. The proof is gonna be in the pudding. I’m hopeful they come in with an eye toward opening up the process and balancing confidentiality with a far greater amount of transparency.”

Emanuel was asked why Chicagoans should believe the revamped Board of Ethics will be any different than the old one.

He argued that his seven appointees “have a kind of background and professionalism that had been absent.” Then the mayor said it was “OK to have a critical eye,” because he does, too.

“I met with the chairman,” Emanuel said. “I’ve given him the clear direction. I expect them to be re-invigorated. ... I want them to pursue ... their appointment with a sense of purpose.”

“That said, you’ll have the job — all of us will have the job — to make sure they’re not just another rubber stamp. ... Based on their history, based on their resume, based on their background and the way they have pursued what they have done in the past, I have confidence. My confidence is kind of a — to use a phrase by another president [Ronald Reagan] — ‘Trust, but verify.’ “

From day one, Emanuel has made ethics reform a cornerstone of his new administration as if to draw the curtain on the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant shadow over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 22-year administration.

Hours after being sworn in at the Pritzker Pavilion, Emanuel rushed back to City Hall to sign six executive orders tightening ethics roles and slamming shut the “revolving door” that had allowed former city officials to cash in on their government contacts.

Emanuel also swore off campaign contributions from city lobbyists, posted an unprecedented amount of information on the Internet 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 revamped the city’s ethics ordinance, reined in the influence of City Hall lobbyists and lifted the veil on their influence-peddling activities.

He even launched a four-month overhaul of Chicago’s anemic ethics ordinance on the day that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to prison.

The latest round of ethics reforms would extend so-called “whistleblower” protection to outside parties” denied a city contract, permit, service or job because they dared to report corruption or wrongdoing.

The current Ethics Board has six members and one vacancy. The dumped members include: attorneys Tiffany Chappell Ingram, Eileen Libby, Miguel Ruiz and Lisa Taylor; accountant Thomas McCarthy and Dr. John Wilhelm, a former city health commissioner. Wilhelm, McCarthy and Taylor had time left in their terms.

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