|This week, the City Council voted to extend the inspector general’s authority to cover allegations of law and ethics violations by aldermen and their staff. Although the expansion brings some real oversight to the council on illegal and unethical activity, it does not go nearly as far as I would like.
I continue to be a strong supporter of the original ordinance introduced by Ald. Michelle Smith (43rd Ward). In that version, the inspector general also could conduct efficiency audits of city council programs. Some aldermen believe that allowing such audits would have allowed the inspector general to audit aldermanic expense accounts and local infrastructure funds (typically referred to as the aldermanic menu).
Such fears were overblown on two points. First, the inspector general can already do efficiency audits on those accounts through his oversight power over the Office of Management and Budget and the Chicago Department of Transportation. Second, we should welcome such audits as opportunities to learn of ways to more prudently spend taxpayer money.
However, there is one city council program that is not subject to an audit through a city agency – the Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation housed within the council’s Committee on Finance. The small department manages roughly $100 million of workers compensation claims every year, and and there has been resistance to oversight by the inspector general.
I worked vigorously with like minded colleagues last weekend and early this week to try and defeat the amendment that watered down Ald. Smith’s original proposal and continued to exempt workers compensation from oversight. Unfortunately, we came up 2 votes short.
In addition to continuing to seek expanded inspector general authority, I introduced a resolution this week requesting hearings on whether the workers compensation program should be moved to the Department of Law or Human Resources, as it is in most other cities. It seems archaic and risky to leave a $100-million program in a committee where there is no outside oversight.
We must look for every opportunity to eliminate waste and earn the trust of our citizens. I will continue to work toward that goal.