Emanuel proposes better protection for whistleblowers
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com August 22, 2012 8:52AM
Updated: September 24, 2012 7:42AM
One month after overhauling Chicago’s anemic ethics ordinance, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing another change to better protect those who dare to blow the whistle on City Hall corruption.
Emanuel wants to make Chicago the nation’s first major city to broaden the umbrella of whistleblower protection to cover anyone who reports misconduct or unlawful behavior by a city employee, city contractor or elected official.
Emanuel said he wants whistleblowers to have the protection they need to make certain that, “When they call in fraud, they’re not worried. When they call in waste, they’re not worried personally. When they call in and see corruption, they’re not worried” to report it.
The mayor noted that the overhaul of the city’s ethics ordinance approved by the City Council last month was the first in more than two decades.
“We have now a landmark whistleblower protection legislation. And we will continue to do more every day to change the culture of corruption into a culture of serving the public,” he said.
The revised ethics ordinance approved by the City Council on July 25 protected full- and part-time city employees from retaliation.
The mayor’s latest amendment would extend it to city contractors, job applicants and anyone else who dares to disclose — or even threatens to disclose — unlawful conduct as well as anyone who provides information in an investigation or hearing.
Victims of retaliation would be compensated for damages, including litigation costs, expert witness fees and “reasonable” attorney’s fees.
If permits, licenses or jobs are denied, applications would be reconsidered. Companies stripped of city contracts in retaliation for information provided could get compensatory damages. If companies are eliminated from competition for a city contract as punishment for information provided, the selection process could be repeated.
Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association (BGA), called the proposed protections “a very big step” to draw the curtain on the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that dominated the final chapter of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 22-year reign.
“This sends a very strong signal that this administration is serious about rooting out corruption,” Shaw said.
“People have been afraid to step forward because they didn’t think they’d get any support. There have been a lot of whistleblowers who’ve lost jobs or contracts because they tried to do the right thing while people committing the illegal or improper acts walked away free as birds.”
But Shaw said he’s hoping the second round of reforms promised by the mayor’s ethics commission goes even further.
“There is more to be done to ensure the integrity of the Infrastructure Trust, to restore faith in the TIF program and to satisfy Emanuel’s campaign pledge about an expanded role for the inspector general with more investigators on his staff,” Shaw said.
“He hasn’t kept those promises and he’s continued to fight the inspector general in court over the release of records on that no-bid contract given out during the Daley years. This is a big step, but there is a lot more to do in the name of ethics and reform.”