Burke, Austin are stonewalling oversight for Chicago City Council

A pair of Chicago aldermen with a combined 67 years in office is all that stands between impunity for City Council members and a vote on subjecting Chicago aldermen to the same oversight as every other employee of city government.

Longtime aldermen Ed Burke and Carrie Austin used a procedural rule on Jan. 13 to block a vote on an ordinance that would place City Council under the watchful eye of Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

Chicago is America’s corruption capital. And Chicago aldermen are currently operating without any oversight at the city level.

The ordinance in question would merge the Office of the Legislative Inspector General – a lapdog position created by aldermen in 2010, which closed in November 2015 when aldermen failed to take action to hire its new head – with Ferguson’s office.

The ordinance boasts 23 co-sponsors, and Alderman Michele Smith of the 43rd Ward believes she has the votes to pass it.

Burke and Austin used rule 27 in City Council’s Rules of Order and Procedure, a “defer and publish” provision, to block a vote on the ordinance. The rule provides that any two aldermen can defer an ordinance that has already passed committee and is up for a full City Council vote to the next full meeting.

Both Burke and Austin have a rocky history with Ferguson’s office.

In 2012, Burke refused to let Ferguson look into his handling of Chicago’s workers’ compensation program, which pays out over $100 million each year – or $3,000 per city employee covered by the state’s Workers Compensation Act, according to Chicago-based workers’ compensation defense lawyer Eugene Keefe. The program was also the subject of a scathing 2012 Chicago Sun-Times investigation revealing gross mismanagement of the system.

In Austin’s case, a Ferguson-led investigation found in 2015 that her son – a city laborer at the time – had a co-worker cover up his crashing a city vehicle while driving on a suspended license.

Austin has previously battled claims of nepotism and corruption, such as benefiting from a ghost-payrolling scheme and installing another one of her sons as her ward superintendent, and has denied that Ferguson’s investigation into her son’s actions is influencing her decision on the matter of City Council oversight. Burke has refused to answer questions regarding the proposed oversight ordinance.

More than 30 Chicago aldermen have been convicted of federal crimes over the past 40 years, according to work from political researchers Thomas Gradel and Dick Simpson. These crimes include bribery, extortion, embezzlement, conspiracy, mail fraud and income-tax evasion.

The ordinance putting City Council under the purview of Ferguson’s office will likely be up for a vote on Feb. 10.

Those voting on such reform couldn’t be any more deserving of its passage.

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