If City Hall’s inspector general can’t get City Hall to cough up the records needed to investigate suspected wrongdoing at City Hall, what recourse does he have? Why, he can take it up with the guy who runs City Hall.
That’s the wholly unsatisfactory resolution of a six-year legal battle decided last month by the Illinois Supreme Court — to the great frustration of Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who still wants those documents.
Heeding the court’s ruling, Ferguson asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to order his law department to hand them over. Ferguson’s still waiting.
In their ruling, the justices stressed that they were simply applying the city ordinance, which allows the inspector general to subpoena records but doesn’t authorize him to go to court to enforce those subpoenas. That’s the job of the corporation counsel — the city’s top attorney — on whom the subpoenas were served in the first place.
The justices noted that the parties have a legitimate dispute and that the corporation counsel has “an obvious conflict of interest.” You can almost hear an apologetic shrug.
“Whether or not the inspector general feels he has the power he needs under law,” they wrote, “the fact remains that this is all the power the Chicago City Council has chosen to give him.”
So in 2007, when then-Corporation Counsel Mara Georges refused to comply with then-Inspector General David Hoffman’s subpoena, the IG should have gone to then-Mayor Richard Daley instead of to court. Hoffman was seeking records about a $100,000-a-year no-bid contract given to a one-time Daley employee. See anything wrong with this picture?
Daley, Hoffman and Georges had been replaced by Emanuel, Ferguson and Stephen Patton by the time the Supreme Court ruled that the inspector general “should have looked to the mayor for assistance.” Ferguson promptly called on Emanuel to deliver the records. He got no response.
Ferguson also asked the mayor to sponsor an ordinance that would ensure the IG’s office the independence it needs to do its job. Specifically, he asked for a guaranteed budget, to protect the office from political pressure; for unrestricted access to city records; and for the power to enforce subpoenas.
We don’t see how a mayor who styles himself as a reformer could object to any of that. But Emanuel hasn’t budged. He says the inspector general has enough authority. “The Supreme Court’s opinion, which was unanimous, speaks for itself,” he said.
Yes, it does, but what it says is that under current law, the mayor himself has the final word on whether the inspector general can have the records he needs to investigate, for example, the mayor. That’s ridiculous, and Emanuel knows it. The law needs to be rewritten.
The court’s ruling also suggests the problem is “highly unusual.” Ferguson says no, it isn’t. And from now on, when an investigation hits the wall because City Hall won’t cooperate, he’s going to make sure it’s publicly reported. Call it Rahmshaming.
Where appropriate, cases also will be reported to the federal monitor overseeing Chicago’s compliance with the Shakman accord, which bans most political hires. The city will have a hard time persuading a judge to free it from oversight if it looks like it’s withholding information from its inspector general.
The mayor says he considers the inspector general his partner in fighting waste, fraud and mismanagement. The truth is that they are sometimes adversaries, if the inspector general does his job right. Then what? Ferguson is right: “This office has only the authority to do the job the mayor wants it to do, not the job that it is statutorily obligated to do.”
If Emanuel wants to be a partner, he’ll put some teeth in the IG ordinance and hustle it through the City Council. In the meantime, he should hand over the records Hoffman asked for six years ago. To engage in a little Rahmshaming ourselves, we’ll remind him of his campaign pledge that “any efforts to block the inspector general from getting information will not be tolerated.”
Today, the only thing standing between the inspector general and those documents is Emanuel.
Please read the original article on the Chicago Tribune website.