A group of self-styled reform aldermen said Thursday they want to help Mayor Rahm Emanuel live up to his campaign pledge to give the city’s top corruption buster unfettered access to city documents, though it’s unclear whether the push will gain traction.
The group proposed giving the inspector general’s office the power to enforce its own subpoenas and require a minimum office funding level that can’t be reduced at the whim of an administration unhappy with the office’s work.
“This was an initiative that was brought by then-candidate Emanuel in December 2010,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, a member of the council’s Progressive Reform Caucus. “What we’re merely trying to do is assist the mayor in codifying this, making sure that we can continue an open, honest and transparent government that he sought when he was running for mayor.”
During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel said that “any efforts to block the inspector general from getting information will not be tolerated.”
Last month, however, the mayor’s Law Department won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that limits the inspector general’s power to get documents. The court ruled that the inspector general cannot go to court to enforce subpoenas for documents without approval from the Law Department or the mayor himself.
The Supreme Court noted it’s “an obvious conflict of interest” for the mayor’s office to decide whether to enforce a subpoena when it is the office being probed. But justices concluded current city code does not give the inspector general the power to enforce subpoenas.
Stephen Patton, the city’s top attorney, said after the ruling that the inspector general has sufficient powers to do his job. Inspector General Joseph Ferguson strongly disagreed.
In addition to giving the inspector power to enforce subpoenas and a guaranteed level of funding, the aldermanic proposal would give the inspector general sole authority over hiring within his office, allow some of his staff to have police powers and extend subpoena powers beyond investigations to audits, program reviews and hearings.
But Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, said so far the group has the support of less than 20 of the city’s 50 aldermen. There’s also no guarantee 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell, the council Rules Committee chairman, will ever call it for a hearing.