Last week’s indictment of Alderman Ed Burke for allegedly using his position as alderman to steer business toward his private law firm throws into sharp relief the continuing need for ethics reform in the Chicago City Council. This is why I announced today a Five-Point Ethics Reform Plan that consists of both new initiatives and renewed attention to proposals I’ve already introduced in the City Council, but have not yet been acted upon.
Below is a summary of the plan:
Point 1–Ban outside employment for aldermen.
I renewed my longstanding proposal calling for a ban on outside employment for aldermen. As Ald. Burke’s indictment demonstrates, conflicts arise inevitably when alderman hold employment in addition to the job they were elected to perform. Ald. Burke is entitled to his day in court, but regardless of the outcome of his case, it’s clear that aldermen should not answer to two masters.
My previous proposals to ban outside employment for aldermen stalled in large due to opposition from Ald. Burke. With Ald. Burke no longer in a position to block the measure, I am confident my colleagues will support the ban.
I’m a full-time alderman and so are the vast majority of my colleagues. The demands of the job of alderman require our undivided attention. I can’t imagine my colleagues would object to a requirement that every alderman work full-time at their elected position.
Many cities, including Los Angeles, ban outside employment for their city council members, recognizing that membership in the city council is a full-time responsibility.
Chicago’s taxpayers deserve aldermen for whom public service is their first priority. My proposed ban on outside employment for alderman will provide taxpayers with that assurance and remove any possibility that their alderman is using his or her public position to benefit an outside business interest.
Point 2–Expand the City Inspector General’s power to include the ability to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees.
My five-point plan also calls for expanding the jurisdiction of Chicago’s Inspector General to include the auditing and review of City Council programs, operations and committees. Three years ago, the City Council gave the Inspector General the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct among aldermen, but left the remainder of our responsibilities exempt from the Inspector General’s purview, due to opposition from Ald. Burke and a few other powerful committee chairs.
For many years, the City’s Inspector General, who has the power and authority to investigate allegations of misconduct against ordinary City employees, could not investigate allegations of misconduct against alderman. I sponsored an ordinance calling for a change in that law, but was stymied by a majority of my colleagues, including Ald. Burke.
Three years ago, the City Council took a huge step forward when it finally gave the Inspector General the power to investigate aldermen, but unfortunately, the ordinance did not go far enough to include within the Inspector General’s jurisdiction the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations and committees. Nonetheless, I supported the ordinance because it was the only measure regarding the Inspector General’s oversight that a majority of the City Council was willing to enact. Now is the time to close that loophole in the ordinance.
Point 3–Give the City Inspector General the power to enforce his subpoenas in court.
My five-point plan also gives the Inspector General the power to independently enforce his subpoenas. Though the Inspector General has the power to issue subpoenas, he does not have the power to go to court to enforce those subpoenas. Instead, the City’s Corporation Counsel alone is empowered to enforce subpoenas issued by the Inspector General. In short, the Inspector General must rely on the very body he is investigating to enforce his subpoenas.
My proposal would do away with this incongruous result.
Point 4–Adopt the Fair Elections Ordinance, which creates a small-donor public-financing system for aldermen and citywide elected officials, including Mayor, City Treasurer and City Clerk.
My ethics plan also calls for the adoption of my long-stalled “Fair Elections Ordinance,” which aims to remove the influence of big money and special interests in Chicago municipal elections by creating a small-donor public-financing system for aldermen and citywide officials, including Mayor, City Treasurer and City Clerk.
I was joined by Alds. John Arena (45th) and Michelle Harris (8th) in sponsoring the ordinance in 2016, but unfortunately it remains stuck in committee.
The Fair Elections Fund would provide for each candidate a $6-to-$1 match on each individual contribution up to $175 as long as candidates do not accept any donations more than $500 from one individual source. Elected officials need to be laser focused on working with and for our constituents and not spend an inordinate amount of time on fundraising and meeting with those attempting to influence our political decisions. The Fair Elections Ordinance, which is modeled after a similar ordinance in New York City, would accomplish those goals.
Point 5–Live stream all City Council committee meetings and record and publish them electronically.
Finally, my ethics plan calls for the live streaming of all City Council committee meetings and the City Clerk to record and electronically publish those meetings. The City Council meetings are live streamed, but as anyone who follows the City Council knows, the bulk of the substantive work of the Council occurs at the committee level.
Few residents can take time out of their work day to attend City Council committee meetings where decisions are made that affect them and their communities. Bringing the committee process to residents will inform and empower all Chicagoans and lead to laws that are more reflective of the needs of the people.
I plan to introduce at the next City Council meeting on January 23rd a package of ordinances that will fully implement my five-point plan. I will keep you apprised of their progress.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts on my proposals, please feel free to reply to this email.