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Is Rahm ready for real reform?

Updated: June 12, 2011 12:26AM



Rahm Emanuel, the mayor-elect, released his 71-page transition team report on Tuesday, establishing a broad-brush scorecard by which he can be judged. Reform is one of his categories.

That’s a good thing.

Moreover, it looks like Emanuel has worked out a deal to cut the number of City Council committees from 19 to 16. And to trim a modest amount of Ald. Ed Burke’s vast power as king of the Council’s Finance Committee.

Those are also good things. But not exactly reform writ large.

Emanuel is neither timid nor indecisive. But his Council changes, so far, suggest that he has realized he can’t push entrenched aldermen too hard, too soon if he expects to translate his plans into actions.

The mayor-elect may believe in shared sacrifice, but plenty of Chicago aldermen absolutely do not. Especially not when it comes to any investigative oversight of the City Council.

That’s why neither Inspector General Joseph Ferguson nor his predecessor, David Hoffman, ever were given the tools, including subpoena power, to investigate sitting aldermen or their staffs.

Even Mayor Daley — not exactly Hoffman or Ferguson’s best friend — tried twice to extend the IG’s jurisdiction to include City Council. But prominent aldermen pushed back, wailing that they might become victims of a witch hunt if, heaven forbid, the IG was empowered to look behind their aldermanic curtains.

Not even the federal conviction of Ald. Isaac Carothers could persuade them otherwise, despite the fact that Carothers was either the 29th or 30th alderman to go to the federal clink in the last four decades.

The Carothers episode was, however, embarrassing enough that the City Council was forced to do something. So last year, they pretended to create their very own inspector general.

The ordinance is worse than a joke, creating a part-time, barely funded job that has yet to be filled.

All of this helps explain why, last week, I couldn’t get a simple answer to a simple question. And I knew it wouldn’t do any good to call the city inspector general’s office because it has no jurisdiction whatever.

The question goes back to those City Council committees that aldermen control. And to campaign contributions that flow from employees lucky enough to be picked by the aldermen to work on their committees.

One employee, Terence L. Toner, earns a city salary working for 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell, who chairs the Committee on Rules and Ethics.

Over the years, Toner has given quite respectable contributions to Mell’s political organization, including a check for $1,000 in 2009 and a check for $900 in 2010. Curiously, state documents show that though Toner is a “municipal employee” of Chicago, he listed his home address as Oak Park.

That is a no-no. City workers are required to live in the city.

One of Mell’s staff members said she was “sure” the listing of Oak Park was a mistake. Mell reportedly was on vacation and unavailable to talk. And Toner was on medical leave and also unavailable.

Residency, as you might imagine, is one of those issues perfectly designed for an inquiry by an inspector general. A real inspector general like Ferguson. Not a paper-tiger inspector general like the one the City Council has yet to appoint.

If soon-to-be Mayor Emanuel is prepared to push aldermen to eliminate their self-imposed exemption from investigation, now that would be change we could believe in.

And reform writ large.



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