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Good luck, aldermen, with reform

Ald. AmeyPawar (47Th) | Sun-Times files

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47Th) | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 25, 2013 6:35AM



Let’s put a rumor to rest.

Ald. Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward did not — repeat — did not travel to Mexico with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on a recent official trip.

“Oh, my God!” exclaimed Pawar by phone on Friday,

“You heard that too?”

I did.

The insinuation of the rumor is that Pawar, elected in 2011 without the endorsement of Emanuel or any of the political establishment, has now developed a not-so-reform-minded relationship with the powers-that-be, including our volatile chief executive.

Not true, says Pawar, who ticks off a litany of legislation on which he has disagreed with Emanuel, including speed cameras, digital billboards and a restructured parking meter deal.

I called Pawar Friday to talk about the much-ballyhooed ordinance to create an “independent” budget office. A way, so the argument goes, for aldermen to keep a careful eye on the stuff they haven’t kept a careful eye on for decades, leaving Chicago perilously close to the fiscal brink.

Now, it seems, they want to be more vigilant. By setting up an independent budget office. Except they’ve recently stripped out the word “independent.”

The new, less scary name is the Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA).

“We wanted to make sure,” said Pawar, “that everyone was okay with it.”

Did “independent” carry a negative meaning?

“We wanted to reflect it is as a Council office,” he said, “independent from the executive branch.”

Need I mention that nothing involving city business is ever independent of the executive branch? Meaning the mayor.

There are parts of the proposed ordinance that should make our heads explode. Like where the person selected to run COFA “may be removed prior to the expiration of his term, at any time, with or without cause, by a two-thirds vote of all the members of City Council.”

Without cause? How progressive.

Or the part where, if the new director of this watchdog office wants to analyze anything not currently outlined in the legislation, he (or she) has to ask the permission of the chairman of the City Council’s budget committee. That would be Ald. Carrie Austin, not widely regarded as a wild-eyed reformer. Or as a reformer at all.

Speaking of non-reformers, the other major power in all appointments to this new watchdog group is Ald. Ed Burke, head of the Finance Committee. A committee whose staff and budget so far exceed the six-person, half-million dollar budget proposed for COFA that one wonders what Burke’s committee has been doing all these decades to protect us from disastrous financial deals?

Pawar admits COFA is not perfect, but asks, “Must the perfect be the enemy of the good?”

No.

But New York City does it a whole lot better.

As would Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson, whose fearlessness nobody questions. Except for the fact that the mayor can’t stand him.

The good news here is that COFA does not come up for a vote until next month.

And that Ald. Pawar didn’t go to Mexico with the mayor.

Email: cmarin@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CarolMarin



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