I announced today that I will introduce an ordinance at next week’s City Council meeting to empower the City of Chicago’s Inspector General’s Office to investigate allegations of wrongdoing brought against aldermen, their staffs and the staffs of the City Council committees.
Over the last several years, we have witnessed a never-ending parade of scandals at all levels of government, which has served to fuel the deep public cynicism about the honesty and integrity of those elected to public office. This public cynicism is at its greatest right here in Chicago, where stories of public corruption appear in our newspapers as frequently as the daily horoscope and the crossword puzzle.
Fortunately, Chicago is blessed with a conscientious and independent Inspector General, who has aggressively ferreted out corruption, waste and inefficiency in city government since he assumed the post three and a half years ago, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. In so doing, Inspector General David General Hoffman has undertaken the first critical steps to restoring public trust in city government.
Every sector of city government is subject to his oversight. Every sector, that is, except one–the Chicago City Council. Since the establishment of the Inspector General’s Office in 1989, Chicago’s aldermen have exempted themselves and their staffs from its purview. During that same period, ten of my City Council colleagues have been convicted of wrongdoing and sent to jail. One was sentenced just last month.
At a time when public disgust with business as usual in City Hall is at its zenith, we have a perfect opportunity to prove that we in the City Council do not believe ourselves to be above the law.
But it’s not enough to simply expand the Inspector General’s oversight to include the City Council. We must do more to ensure the independence of the Inspector General’s Office from both the Mayor and the City Council.
Currently, the Mayor selects the Inspector General subject to City Council approval. Under my proposal, the Mayor would be required to choose the Inspector General from a list of three finalists selected by an independent panel, consisting of the chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, the Cook County state’s attorney, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, and the directors of the Chicago Crime Commission and the Better Government Association.
My proposal also extends the term of the Inspector General from the current four- year term to a six-year term to ensure greater independence from both branches of city government.
Finally, to protect the Inspector General’s Office from retaliatory budget cuts from either the mayor or the city council, my proposal locks in a minimum annual budget amount for the Inspector General’s Office of no less than 0.15 percent of the entire city budget.
These measures, if adopted, will ensure the functioning of an effective, independent Inspector General’s Office. If we are to restore the public’s trust, we in the City Council must first demonstrate that we are not above the law. Next, we must ensure that the Inspector General is not some handpicked political crony of the mayor or the city council, but someone vetted by a respected panel of outside experts. Finally, we must give the Inspector General the tools and independence he or she needs to investigate allegations of corruption wherever they lead.
There is no better time than now for the City Council to enact these important reform measures.
I will keep you posted on my progress.