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Ald. Austin: Inspector general lacks “audit power”

Updated: November 29, 2012 3:50PM

A powerful Chicago alderman who hired her son to be her ward superintendent Thursday thumbed her nose at a demand from the City Council’s handpicked inspector general for two years’ worth of time sheets for full-and part-time Council employees.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), powerful chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, said Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan lacks “audit power” and has no right to issue a blanket request for the personnel records of all 50 aldermen.

“If there is an allegation regarding an alderman, that’s the alderman you should be targeting and that alderman should comply. I don’t think you have a right to say all 50 have to comply,” Austin said.

“I don’t have anything to hide. But I don’t think you have a right to just tell me, `I want your time sheets.’ That’s not within your authority. You say anything you do as inspector general is within your authority? No, it’s not. You have rules and guidelines, just like everybody else has…You were hired by this Council. You reached too far without an explanation.”

Is Austin daring Khan to issue a subpoena for her personnel records?

“He can. He has that power,” she said.

But unless she is compelled, Austin said, “I’m not gonna comply….Ain’t nobody gonna just tell me what to do.”

Khan was handpicked by Chicago aldermen determined to avoid scrutiny by the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

Earlier this week, he refused to explain the sweeping request, denied that he had exceeded his authority and said he is not about to be a political patsy for the City Council.

“When I took this position, I made it clear that I will …serve the taxpayers by making sure there is no misconduct or corruption in City Council. I’m gonna continue to do my job until I’m told I no longer have a job,” he said.

“Anyone who questions whether I’m acting out of my authority is incorrect. Any actions my office takes are within the scope of my authority. I don’t operate beyond that scope.”

Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Austin had installed her son as her $75,512-a-year ward superintendent.

Former alderman-turned-County Commissioner William Beavers (7th) once had his brother working as his ward superintendent. Before being convicted on federal corruption charges, former Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th) had her sister doing the same.

Austin was believed to be the first alderman to install a son or daughter in the all-important job.

Nepotism apparently comes naturally to the Austins.

For five years ending in 1993, Austin’s husband, the late Ald. Lemuel Austin (34th), and Anthony C. Laurino (39th) engaged in the art of political wife-swapping.

Laurino’s wife was placed on the payroll of the Budget Committee, chaired by Lemuel Austin. Anthony Laurino, who chaired the Traffic Committee, returned the favor by giving Austin’s wife a committee job.

Despite a federal investigation into alleged ghost payrolling on the staffs of City Council committees, Carrie Austin has insisted that she earned her $37,560-a-year field investigator’s pay by driving around four South Side wards in search of broken

street signs.

Lemuel Austin died of a heart attack in 1994 at the age 48.

Two weeks later, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Carrie Austin to succeed her late husband.

Seven years later, Carrie Austin followed in her husband’s footsteps again — as chairman of the City Council’s second-most powerful committee.

Carrie Austin was re-elected last year with 65 percent of the vote against four challengers. She waited until after the election to engineer the appointment of her son, Lemuell III, who ran snow removal operations in the 34th Ward during the Blizzard of 2011.

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