CITY HALL — Progressive aldermen sought to empower the city Inspector General's Office with a series of ordinances proposed Thursday.
Acting on "an obvious conflict of interest" pointed out in a recent state Supreme Court decision, the Progressive Reform Caucus proposed giving the Inspector General full subpoena power and guaranteed fiscal independence.
In that, they said, they were only following through on campaign promises made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"This was an initiative that was brought by then-candidate Emanuel in December 2010," said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th). "What we're merely trying to do is assist the mayor in codifying this, making sure that we can continue an open, honest, transparent government that he sought when he was running for mayor."
"All we're asking for is what's been put on the table in the past," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). "And we hope our fellow City Council members will sign on to this and make sure this blows through the City Council."
The ordinance amendments will be proposed at the next council meeting May 8.
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in March that the city IG ordinance, as written, does not give the office full subpoena power.
Inspector General Joseph Ferguson addressed that ruling in a scathing introduction to his quarterly report issued last week, writing that it leaves his office having to request that the mayor release subpoenaed documents, as with information on an investigation into a city contract awarded under the Daley administration in 2007.
If the Mayor's Office says "no," as Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton did on that matter, the IG has no legal recourse, according to the Supreme Court ruling. Thus, the mayor has the power to quash any investigation into his own office. The court granted that constituted "an obvious conflict of interest."
Emanuel has endorsed that ruling and thus far declined to release the documents requested by Ferguson's office.
"To fail on your campaign promises, that's one thing," Waguespack said. "But to basically hold it up this long means there's something going on there that they don't want us to see."
"The Supreme Court observed that the city could provide a resolution to this issue by amending city law, but has yet to do so," Ferguson wrote.
Thursday, the Progressive Reform Caucus proposed just that.
"The ordinance as it exists does not allow direct access to these documents," said Ald. John Arena (45th). "This seems to be a very common sense solution."
"If we're going to root out corruption in this city, if we're gonna make a stand that it's unacceptable at any level, then we have to give the inspector general the tools necessary," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).
The proposals, Fioretti added, would also give the IG's Office autonomy over hiring, instead of having to ask the mayor's permission on personnel moves.
The aldermen said they would not be teaming their package with a proposal by a rival group of self-proclaimed progressives to eliminate the Legislative Inspector General's Office and give the IG's Office power over all city investigations. They cited concerns about getting it passed.
Waguespack made a backhanded reference to the Paul Douglas Alliance by calling it the "Paul Powell Douglas Caucus," referring to the disgraced Secretary of State Paul Powell who kept illicit money in shoe boxes. "Whoever they are," he added.
"I think what we're trying to focus on now is three or four things that we're pretty sure everyone would sign off on," Waguespack said.
"We're in the teens right now, and I think we'll see more," Fioretti said. It would take 26 votes to pass the City Council.