CHICAGO (January 7, 2019)–Members of the Chicago City Council Progressive Reform Caucus on Monday called for sweeping changes to the Committee on Finance, which has been rocked by scandal following the indictment last week of committee chairman Ald. Ed Burke (14). They also called for a tightening of the Rules of Order that govern the City Council to prevent future ethics problems.
The Caucus has long demanded changes to the Finance Committee and to the way the Council functions more broadly to prevent corruption and unethical behavior.
Members of the Caucus have long called for the opaque $100 million Workers Compensation program to be removed from the purview of the Finance Committee and instead be overseen by the Law Department. Ald. John Arena (45) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) introduced an ordinance to accomplish that last month. It is now awaiting consideration in the Rules Committee. On Monday, aldermen urged Rules Committee Chair Ald. Michelle Harris to either discharge the item to another committee or call it for a vote at this month’s Rules Committee hearing.
“We’re glad that the Emanuel administration has finally taken steps to move Workers Comp–but it is many years too late, and it still needs to be codified into law through the passage of the ordinance we proposed last month,” said Ald. Arena. “There shouldn’t be special perks for certain privileged aldermen, like control over massive chunks of taxpayers’ dollars with no oversight or transparency. Taxpayers need to feel confident that their government is putting their needs
first–not clouted politicians.”
The aldermen also called for an immediate forensic audit of the entire Workers Compensation program by outside counsel in concert with the Inspector General.
“For decades, no one but Ald. Burke has known what’s been going on with this program,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5). “The only way to truly ensure that we’re protecting taxpayers is through a forensic audit of this $100 million fund.”
In 2016, Caucus members fought to strengthen the Office of the Inspector General to give it subpoena power and oversight over City Council committees. After the proposed ordinance was weakened, several members opted to vote against it.
Now, they say they will renew efforts to give the Inspector General subpoena power and committee oversight.
“We got into this mess because of a lack of transparency and oversight,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32). “To get out of it, we need to empower the Inspector General and make sure everyone is held accountable.”
The Progressive Caucus will also propose changes to Rule 14, which is meant to prevent aldermen from weighing in on matters in which they have any conflict of interest. The change would require that all City Council members formally file written notice of any conflict of interest ahead of a matter’s consideration, and that they then recuse themselves and be physically absent from all debates, hearings and votes on said action–including committee chairs.
“When an alderman has a conflict of interest, they should be required to be transparent about exactly what that conflict is,” said Ald. Sophia King (4). “They should be required to recuse themselves from presiding over or being present at hearings on a matter in which they’re conflicted.”
The Caucus also demanded that Rule 36 of the Rules of Order, which governs the appointment of committee chairs, be followed to the letter. Although the rule clearly states that the City Council should select and appoint committee chairs, historically, the mayor has commandeered that process.
“This is a seachange moment. It’s a chance for the City Council to stand up and do the right thing,” said Ald. Toni Foulkes (16). “And the first step is democratically choosing our committee leadership–not accepting these decisions being imposed top-down by the mayor’s office.”