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Feel-good meeting leaves bad taste

Updated: January 16, 2014 6:45AM



Even the most jaded citizens would have been uplifted by the grace notes at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

There was the minister whose invocation was a full-throated song that began, “Oh God, fix me. . . . Fix us to be trusted . . .”

He wasn’t commenting on the darker side of Chicago’s politics. Quite the opposite. He was calling for all of us to find our better angels.

It was lovely.

Then came a series of resolutions commending the valor of an off-duty police officer. The bravery of a World War II veteran. The compassion of a doctor who feeds the city’s homeless. And the world-changing forgiveness and moral authority of Nelson Mandela.

The mayor, recalling how he and his wife, Amy Rule, honeymooned in South Africa shortly after Mandela had left prison to form the first democratically elected government of South Africa, talked about the critical decisions we all face in our lives.

“In life, you’ve gotta make a call,” said Rahm Emanuel.

The choice, he said, was whether you want to be in the history books. Or merely in the guest book of life.

The mayor wants Chicago in the history books for the development of great schools. Thriving businesses. Good jobs. Safe neighborhoods. And world-class innovation.

We join him in that wish.

But to get there, as the minister sang, a key to this city’s success — and Emanuel’s success, as well — is trust. Emanuel knew that as a candidate in 2011. And he went out on a limb in promising to expand — yes, expand — the investigative powers of the city’s truly independent inspector general.

The mayor has never made good on that promise.

Which takes me to the small item of business that was left to the very end of that city council meeting.

On the agenda, after the music and the resolutions and the speeches, was an ordinance to establish a new fiscal watchdog called COFA. The City Council Office of Financial Analysis. A way to never again be stuck with the price-gouging, outrageous, privatized parking meter deal spearheaded by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and mindlessly rubberstamped by an overwhelming majority of aldermen.

COFA, with a small staff and small budget, theoretically is going to remedy that.

And tutor a fiscally challenged City Council to better understand the budget and the bonds and the deals being made.

Great idea. Until you read it.

Who appoints the small, sparely funded COFA team?

Aldermen.

Who can fire them WITHOUT cause?

Aldermen.

What if the COFA appointees want to look into financial transactions not identified in the ordinance?

They can’t unless they ask Ald. Carrie Austin, head of the budget committee, and say please.

Can COFA analysts force city officials to hand over documents they don’t want to hand over?

No.

Does any other city do this kind of analysis independently, fearlessly and well?

Yes.

New York City does.

Earning them someday, perhaps, a small mention in the history books.

Us?

It’s the guest book for now.

Email: cmarin@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CarolMarin



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