CITY HALL — The City Council's designated watchdog is barking at a new proposal to merge the inspector general offices.
Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan on Monday called an ordinance amendment submitted last week by Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) "feeble and unreasoned" and an example of "pre-election pandering."
Smith, however, countered that it "represents a step forward in overcoming long-standing institutional hurdles to apply the same standards of ethical review to all public servants, and ensure Chicago residents are represented by a body held to the highest ethical standards."
Smith's ordinance would set up a single inspector general to investigate all city employees, including aldermen and their staffs, currently under the oversight of Khan. Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has said he'd be capable of fulfilling the added duties.
It would also set up a demanding application and interview process for future inspectors general.
"As a former federal prosecutor, I know first-hand the importance of ensuring ample oversight of elected officials," Smith said. "A well-qualified inspector general vested with broad powers provides better protection for taxpayers and elected officials alike, and I ask my fellow aldermen to join in support of this ordinance. It's long past time to bring reform to council chambers."
Khan accused Smith of hypocrisy, in that her ordinance does not address the inequity that aldermen cannot be accused of wrongdoing in anonymous complaint filings, as other city employees can.
"The theory that a complaint must be signed in order for an alderman to be treated fairly or appropriately has been debunked repeatedly," Khan said. "This is crucial. The need for allowing anonymous complaints far outweighs the need for an alderman to set up an arbitrary obstacle, and no law-enforcement departments have a requirement such as this."
Khan said Smith "is acknowledging that there should remain a different standard for aldermen and their city counterparts, in clear contradiction to her public position."
He added that her proposal to replace a blue-ribbon selection committee of non-government officials with a panel made up of three aldermen and two mayoral appointees would likely result in the selection of an inspector general who "will forever remain questionable and tainted" and lack independence.
Khan insisted he was open to combining the offices. Yet he added that he "does not welcome pre-election pandering along with a feeble and unreasoned amendment to an already weak and specious proposal."
Khan has clashed with the council over the responsibility to probe campaign funding, a duty eventually assigned to the Board of Ethics this summer over Khan's objections. He pointed to how Smith voted against giving his office that responsibility.
Khan has sued the city, saying his office is not sufficiently funded to conduct its duties. Most recently, he accused Ald. Joe Moore (49th) of calling one of his staffers by a rude barnyard epithet.
Moore immediately signed on to endorse Smith's proposal as one of her colleagues in the Paul Douglas Alliance. Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Mary O'Connor (41st) joined those aldermen in endorsing Smith's proposal, which was also backed Monday by a newspaper editorial.
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