You may have read or heard reports in the media that I have been accused by the City of Chicago Legislative Inspector General, Faisal Khan, of “improperly” providing severance pay to two former employees several years ago, and of firing one of the employees because she complained about political work being done in the ward office by other “City employees.” Mr. Khan’s accusations are false, and his behavior was at best completely unprofessional. He owes me and all of the residents of the City of Chicago an apology.
I am writing to set the record straight.
As my constituent and neighbor, I want you to hear this from me directly: I have done nothing wrong, and have always done my best to serve the 49th Ward and City of Chicago ethically, transparently, and responsibly.
Incredible as it may seem, Mr. Khan never even bothered to reach out to me or my staff before reaching his erroneous conclusion. I would have been more than willing to provide Mr. Khan with any information he required had he given me the opportunity to do so. He never notified me I was under investigation. He never interviewed me. He never interviewed my staff. Indeed, when I was notified a mere five days in advance that he was going to issue his report containing these accusations, I tried repeatedly, both by phone and in writing, to reach out to him to discuss his concerns. To date, he has failed to give me even the courtesy of a response.
MR. KHAN’S FALSE ALLEGATION THAT I ENGAGED IN “THEFT” IS WITHOUT FACTUAL OR LEGAL SUPPORT.
Mr. Khan makes two groundless accusations in his report. First, he falsely accuses me of “theft” because I paid two long-standing employees severance at the time they left my office. He cites no city, state, or federal law that was violated, despite being specifically asked to do so.
I believed, and still believe, that these employees were entitled to severance under the discretion I have with regard to my staff and personnel issues. As an alderman, I have the authority to hire, set salaries and work schedules, and terminate my staff. These two employees logged long hours in service of the ward. Both regularly worked well in excess of 40 hours per week.
Given their years with my office and the hours they devoted to serving the taxpayers, I believed, and still believe, that it was both fair and proper to them, as well as to the taxpayers, to provide them additional paid time to find new jobs, especially in tough economic times.
One of these employees, my former chief-of-staff, was able to use his time off to find another job. The other employee, Anne Sullivan, filed a complaint with Mr. Khan’s office over three years after I terminated her employment, claiming that her receipt of severance pay was improper. Significantly, she has not offered to return the money. Nor in fact should she.
Ms. Sullivan was the cause of a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of the rest of my staff, and many constituents as well. However, she often worked far in excess of the hours required of her and took furlough days during hard times. Though she was granted a period of time to seek other employment, Ms. Sullivan never found another job and, to my knowledge, remains unemployed to this day. This is not a fate I wish on anyone, but it hardly justifies her efforts to make false charges as she has done.
A few days after he issued his report, Mr. Khan’s self-proclaimed “chief-of-staff” told the press that what I did was “ghost payrolling.” This accusation is absurd. The payments in question were not made over long periods of time to “fake employees” who never worked for me. Nor was there any mutual intent to defraud the taxpayer. Instead, it was quite the opposite.
Anyone has a right to disagree with any decision I make as a public official. If you believe I was too generous in giving these employees three months of severance, this is your right. I would simply ask you to consider how you would want to be treated in the same situation.
Moreover, I would ask you to consider the fact that the combined total of about $22,000 that was paid in severance to these two employees pales in comparison to the money I pay regularly out of my political fund to cover City and ward-related expenses. In just the last six years, these payments have amounted to more than $100,000. I have not shorted the taxpayers by any stretch of the imagination. If you wish to see an itemized list of city and ward expenses that I have paid for in recent years, please contact email@example.com.
Regardless of whether you agree with my determination to provide severance to my employees, no one has the right to call this decision “theft,” as Mr. Khan alleged, or “ghost payrolling,” as his spokesperson stated. It is neither, and it is simply irresponsible for anyone to say so.
MR. KHAN’S FALSE ALLEGATION THAT I ENGAGED IN AN “ABUSE OF AUTHORITY” IS ALSO WITHOUT FACTUAL OR LEGAL SUPPORT.
The second false accusation Mr. Khan makes in his report is that I engaged in “abuse of authority” because I allegedly fired an employee for political reasons “after she had complained about political work being done in the ward office.” He implies the severance I provided Ms. Sullivan was hush money to keep her from talking about political activity in the ward office. This is an intentional falsehood on the part of Ms. Sullivan, and a completely unfounded assertion on the part of Mr. Khan.
He does not explain how he could possibly have reached this conclusion without ever speaking to me, or any of my staff who were involved in this employee’s dismissal. If he had asked me or any of my staff, we would have told him that my decision to terminate Ms. Sullivan was made for cause, and on the recommendation of my chief-of-staff based on many incidents of insubordination and other misconduct. Long before the alleged incident took place, all of Ms. Sullivan’s work colleagues had been urging me to terminate her employment. They wholeheartedly agreed with my chief-of-staff’s recommendation and my decision to accept her recommendation.
Attorney Khan could have learned these facts if he had any interest in the truth. But he failed to conduct even the most rudimentary investigation. Instead, he simply accepted Ms. Sullivan’s tale as true and concluded I had abused my power.
Though it was not part of Mr. Kahn’s findings, much has been made in the news media about Ms. Sullivan’s allegation that in 2009 she saw an unpaid student intern in my ward office putting labels on a political mailing when I was out of town, and that she was fired and offered hush money for raising this one particular incident.
Since this allegation first surfaced last week, I conducted my own investigation and spoke with my staff assistants who were employed at the time the alleged event occurred. Staff members have confirmed that volunteers in the ward office, such as the unpaid intern, on occasion placed stamps and labels on postcards for small political mailings, primarily mailings to the members of my ward organization. My staff members assure me that these occasional mailings are the only political activity that took place in the office, that it was performed only by volunteers and that it has not taken place in the last several years.
Nonetheless, I have reminded them that it was then and is still against my directive and policy to allow any of this kind of activity in the office, even if it is performed by volunteers, and that it should not happen again. I maintain a year-round political office in the community at 1774 W. Greenleaf, for which I pay over $1,000 a month in rent, to help ensure that political work is kept separate from government work.
Though the activity is not something I support or condone in my ward office, it is important to note that the activity that Ms. Sullivan alleges did not violate the City’s Code of Ethics or any other law. The City’s Code of Ethics applies to paid City employees only, not to volunteers or unpaid interns.
Moreover, the postcards, labels and stamps were purchased with my political fund, not City funds. We keep careful records of purchases made and, in particular, I have never once used my City expense account to purchase stamps. This alleged activity by the young student intern did not cost the City and its taxpayers even one thin dime.
Even if this alleged incident involving the volunteer intern putting labels on postcards had constituted some sort of technical violation of the law, the allegation that the severance paid to Ms. Sullivan was some kind of “hush money” to cover up this event is utterly false and deeply offensive.
It is completely ludicrous to suggest that I would put my reputation and career at risk to cover up such a minor infraction. And as Mr. Khan himself acknowledges, this was not the first time I offered severance to a terminated employee. You know me and what I stand for, and you may also know or have known Ms. Sullivan. Her charge is an utter fabrication.
Finally, you may have heard or read that I was interviewed last May by two FBI agents. At the time, I assumed the same disgruntled employee, Ms. Sullivan, had filed a complaint against me with their office and they were exercising due diligence in investigating the complaint. I have since discovered it was in fact the City’s Legislative Inspector General, Mr. Khan, who had contacted them. The FBI agents assured me I am not a target of any federal investigation.
FAISAL KHAN BLATANTLY VIOLATED THE STANDARDS OF INVESTIGATORY PROCEDURE SET OUT IN THE CITY CODE; HIS CONDUCT IN THIS SO-CALLED “INVESTIGATION” IS BOTH UNETHICAL AND UNPROFESSIONAL.
If anyone has violated the law, it is Mr. Khan, who has acted unethically and unprofessionally throughout the so-called “investigation” that has led to these unsubstantiated allegations against me.
Before the Legislative Inspector General launches an investigation or refers a matter to law enforcement, City law requires him to obtain the approval of the City of Chicago Board of Ethics. This requirement was put in place to check the unfettered power of the Legislative Inspector General and prevent precisely the kind of witch hunt Mr. Khan has engaged in here. Mr. Khan failed to seek, let alone obtain, the Board’s approval before investigating me.
City law also requires the Legislative Inspector General to keep investigations and reports on investigations confidential. By leaking my identity to the press on the day he issued his report, Mr. Khan blatantly violated my legal right to confidentiality.
In addition, City law requires the Inspector General to give the subject of the investigation notice of the allegations against him and an opportunity to provide information in response, including the names of any witnesses the subject wishes to have interviewed by the Inspector General. Mr. Khan failed to notify me of the allegations or give me an opportunity to respond to them.
Mr. Khan has failed to give me an opportunity to defend myself before an impartial tribunal. City law provides that, “No alderman or city council employee shall be determined or found to have violated the [the City’s Ethics Code] unless the Board of Ethics so determines that a violation has occurred only after a hearing conducted by the Board of Ethics in which due process rights are afforded.”
Five days before he issued his report, Mr. Khan delivered a letter to me, informing me he was about to publish these allegations. This was the first time I learned I was under investigation by his office. I called his office immediately and asked to speak with Mr. Khan to determine the reasons for his legal conclusion that the severance constituted theft and that I abused my authority. He never returned my call. I also arranged for my attorney to write him a letter asking him to show us the rule or statute that I supposedly violated and that attorney also left a phone message for Mr. Khan. Again, no response from Mr. Khan.
Mr. Khan says he cannot submit my case to the Board of Ethics because the “statute of limitations” has run. A statute of limitations sets a time limit on when legal action can be brought. This begs the question: If the statute of limitations had run on this allegation, why then did Mr. Khan waste taxpayer dollars conducting an unauthorized and illegal investigation and issuing–and leaking–a report about a matter he could not prosecute?
Instead, by publishing the results of a one-sided investigation that gave me no opportunity to respond, Mr. Khan created his own version of the 15th century English Star Chamber where trials were held in secret with no witnesses and judgments predetermined. Star Chambers were abolished over 350 years ago for a reason. It is a fundamental right enshrined in our American system of justice to be given a full and fair opportunity to respond to your accuser and have your day in court. Mr. Kahn afforded me none of these basic rights.
I will not pretend to understand the motives behind Mr. Khan’s unlawful investigation of me, though it should be noted that long before the onset of his investigation, I had vociferously opposed the creation of his office, calling instead for City Council oversight by the City’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson. Regardless, I do know this: Faisal Khan has caused enormous damage to my reputation and the work we are doing to build a stronger 49th Ward.
I demand Mr. Khan meet with me immediately to justify the charges he made in his report and explain why he conducted an unauthorized investigation when the statute of limitations had expired and why he consciously avoided interviewing me and my staff. Otherwise, I will demand he issue me a public apology and withdraw the allegations. Should he fail to do either, I will take appropriate action to ensure that he is held accountable.
I will answer all questions from the members of the news media or anyone else, but I believe you as my constituents and neighbors deserve to hear directly from me. To say the last 10 days have been trying on my family, staff and me is an understatement. No one enjoys having their reputation tarnished in public, especially someone, such as I, who prides himself on his advocacy of political reform and governmental transparency. But I have been strengthened by the countless people who have offered my wife Barbara, my staff and me their prayers and words of encouragement and support.
They say you know who your true friends are when the chips are down. I’m proud to say I have many friends. Muhammad Ali once said, “Inside a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.” After a tough 10 days, I’m still standing tall and proudly fighting for the people of the 49th Ward, the greatest community in the City of Chicago.