Rahm Emanuel’s ethics overhaul sails through committee
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org July 18, 2012 6:24PM
Updated: July 18, 2012 7:54PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to overhaul Chicago’s anemic ethics ordinance sailed through a City Council committee on Wednesday, but Round 2 could get tougher.
After making ethics reform a cornerstone of his new administration, Emanuel has given his ethics task force carte blanche to look at everything.
That includes examining the work of the city’s do-nothing Board of Ethics, empowering Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate aldermen instead of letting the City Council have its own sleuth and expanding the IG’s powers to include the Chicago Park District and Public Building Commission.
The ethics panel could also entertain the idea of making alderman a full-time job or even cutting the City Council in half. That’s a controversial subject that Emanuel broached with aldermen during the transition.
“I want practical progress on a reform agenda. I have put no constraints on it,” the mayor said on the day he launched the overhaul.
Round One of the reforms are far less controversial, paving the way for Wednesday’s unanimous vote by the Rules Committee.
City employees will be prohibited from handling matters involving a former employer or “negotiating future employment” with a company they are overseeing. They will be required to undergo ethics training and report corruption while whistleblowers get more protection.
Gifts will be capped at $50-a-year, instead of $100, and public speaking fees will be off-limits. Mandatory ethics statements will require more financial disclosure. City employees will be prohibited from soliciting political contributions from subordinates. And they will be barred from performing “political activities” on city time or using city resources.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has a problem with the blanket ban on political activities.
He complained that it would literally prevent his staff from working with residents to rid their Far South Side ward of problem taverns by voting precincts dry.
“In 1998, we voted 29 liquor stores dry at one time….The city defended the referendum after the citizens voted for it. How can the city defend something that they’re saying now is gonna be a violation of the ethics code?” Beale said.
In the haste to prevent City Hall corruption, Beale said, “We may have taken a couple of steps too far. We may need to back up a little bit. State law is dictating this. So, we need to go to Springfield to get some relief on this….It just makes it harder and harder to govern.”
Ald. Will Burns (4th), who co-chaired the mayor’s ethics task force, said aldermanic staffers can work on vote-dry referenda “when they’re off the clock or during their lunch hour. If they want to take their vacation time on the streets of the ward working for the referendum, they can do that. “
As for the overall impact of the mayor’s ordinance, Burns acknowledged that it won’t stop the seemingly-endless parade of City Hall corruption.
But he said, “Most people who fall astray do so because they’re not quite clear what the lines are. They’re not quite clear how to comply. This is designed to help them [and] make that easier.”