Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune
We have some questions for the 25 aldermen who voted Wednesday to gut the ordinance assigning oversight of the City Council to Inspector General Joe FergusonWhat assurances can you give taxpayers that the $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation fund is being managed correctly? What safeguards are in place to prevent waste, fraud or abuse?
Can you vouch for how that money is being spent?
We certainly hope so, because you just voted to allow the program, run by Ald. Ed Burke’s Finance Committee, to continue to operate in the dark.
That was an actual argument made by Ald. Danny Solis, 25th, as he urged his colleagues to vote to water down the ordinance. Ald. Will Burns, 4th, worried aloud that the inspector general might find fault with an alderman who skipped a block party or a christening. In the next breath, Burns raised the specter of overzealous prosecutors who send innocent men to death row.
Yes, there are monsters under the aldermen’s beds. What’s really scary is that those monsters are driving public policy.
In the middle of this hyperbolic nonsense, Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, rose to deliver what he described as a “reality check.” For a microsecond, we thought he might exhort his colleagues to get ahold of themselves. Instead, he explained that just because a bunch of aldermen sign on as co-sponsors of a measure, that doesn’t mean they actually plan to vote for it.
What does it mean, then? It means they want citizens to think they’d vote for it if only the powers that be — Burke, usually — would let it out of committee.
It’s usually a safe ruse. Thirty-five aldermen signed on to an earlier version of the inspector general ordinance in late 2014, months before they stood for re-election. The first name on that list? Ald. Joe Moore.
So back to our question: Aldermen, what are you doing to safeguard the money that you’ve just walled off from the inspector general’s prying eyes?
Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, and Ald. John Arena, 45th, offer one suggestion: In a resolution filed shortly after Wednesday’s vote, they called for hearings to consider putting the city’s Law Department in charge of workers’ compensation claims, “in keeping with the modern legal practice.”
Managing those claims isn’t a legislative function in the first place. The workers’ comp program covers employees throughout city government, not just in the City Council.
In their resolution, Waguespack and Arena point out that the bureau of workers’ compensation has been housed in the Finance Committee since 1913.
That arrangement shields the program from oversight, inviting inefficiency and abuse, the resolution says. It also “creates cynicism among the taxpaying public, undermining trust in the government of the City of Chicago and in this body.”
Those cynical Chicagoans aren’t buying aldermen’s attempts to pitch the vote as an ethical triumph.
Yes, the inspector general is finally empowered to investigate alleged wrongdoing by aldermen and their staffs. But the same ordinance expressly prohibits him from examining the books on programs that distribute hundreds of millions in public dollars. Who is charged with auditing those programs? Nobody. That’s a crime against taxpayers.
After the deed was done, aldermen spent several minutes lauding Burns, who is leaving the council for a job with Airbnb. Burns praised his colleagues in turn, lamenting that they are rarely given credit for meeting the daily challenges of a 24/7 job.
“It’s a shame that in this city, the word ‘alderman’ is a pejorative,” Burns said.
Yes, it is a shame.
Aldermen just had a golden opportunity to change that. They blew it.
Once again, here is Wednesday’s vote of the Chicago City Council. A ‘Yea’ vote is the cynical, self-interested vote to shield the aldermen from the scrutiny of the inspector general and, in turn, the scrutiny of the voters:
Yeas (25): Brian Hopkins, 2nd; Will Burns, 4th; Leslie Hairston, 5th;Roderick Sawyer, 6th; Gregory Mitchell, 7th; Michelle Harris, 8th; Anthony Beale, 9th; Patrick Thompson, 11th; George Cardenas, 12th; Edward Burke, 14th; Raymond Lopez, 15th; David Moore, 17th; Derrick Curtis, 18th; Howard Brookins, 21st; Ricardo Munoz, 22nd; Daniel Solis, 25th; Walter Burnett, 27th; Jason Ervin, 28th; Ariel Reboyras, 30th; Gilbert Villegas, 36th; Emma Mitts, 37th; Margaret Laurino, 39th; Patrick O’Connor, 40th; Thomas Tunney, 44th; Joseph Moore, 49th.
Nays (23): Proco Joe Moreno, 1st; Pat Dowell, 3rd; Susan Sadlowski Garza, 10th; Marty Quinn, 13th; Toni Foulkes, 16th; Matthew O’Shea, 19th; Willie Cochran, 20th; Michael Zalewski, 23rd; Michael Scott Jr., 24th; Chris Taliaferro, 29th; Milagros “Milly” Santiago, 31st; Scott Waguespack, 32nd; Deborah Mell, 33rd; Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th; Nicholas Sposato, 38th; Anthony Napolitano, 41st; Brendan Reilly, 42nd; Michele Smith, 43rd; John Arena, 45th; James Cappleman, 46th; Ameya Pawar, 47th; Harry Osterman, 48th; Debra Silverstein, 50th.