Ethics Reform

We face some major challenges here in Chicago, and we need a City Council committed to solving the hard problems. But what we have is a council that neglects difficult decisions in favor of maintaining the corrupt status quo. This corruption, (we have three separate Aldermen all under indictment right now alone), prevents reform and allows insiders to steal City funds while Chicago taxpayers bear the costs.  Too many Aldermen who aren’t personally corrupt have sat by while a corrupt system continues, too afraid to cross the powers-that-be. We need to elect an Alderman who’s not afraid to challenge this system head on and push real reform for taxpayers.

I have a ten-point ethics plan to eliminate the Old “Chicago Way” and start a new day of reform:

1. Eliminate Aldermanic Side Jobs.  Aldermen are paid up to $117,333 a year, yet many still have side jobs that often come with serious conflicts of interests (Alderman Burke’s case being the clearest example among many, including in the 43rd Ward).  There is no reason for us to continue to short-change the taxpayers when we’re already paying Aldermen a salary well over $100,000. These jobs, such as property tax attorney or being paid by a major donor, represent the clearest opportunity for corruption in the system.  We must shut this door. Until this ordinance passes I will voluntarily pledge to abide by it from Day 1 and take no other paid jobs while in office.

2. Remove the Mayor’s Ability to Appoint Alderman Mid-Term.  Mayors have used the Aldermanic appointment power to increase their control over City Council for decades by ensuring it was their chosen people sitting in Aldermanic seats without any election and then allowing them to always run as incumbents.  Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed 25 Aldermen, the equivalent of half of City Council. This single power drives more Mayoral control over City Council than any other. By reforming City Council so Aldermanic retirements are replaced with special elections, we can ensure no Alderman owe their allegiance to a Mayor because of appointment and voters will always have a fair chance to decide who will represent them when someone retires.

3. Launch a Blue-Ribbon Commission to Completely Rethink City Council Size and Powers.  Chicago’s City Council is an extreme outlier among big Cities in the United States.  Our City Council both has way more representatives for our size, and more unchecked power for Aldermen in their Wards than any other City.  I think it’s time to fundamentally rethink how our City Council is set up. We need to ask if we have too many Aldermen (the average of the other top 10 U.S. cities is 17, one-third our size) and could instead better put that money to use hiring hundreds more teachers and Police?  Should there be more of a check on Aldermen so they can’t hold businesses hostage for permits or have absolute Aldermanic privilege and control over zoning? It’s time we take a big-picture look at the City Council and, instead of just staying with what we have, rethink everything.  City Council has not been effective, let’s make it better.

4. Empower the Inspector General to Investigate City Council Committees and requiring Aldermanic staff to report conflicts of interest.  City Council cannot be insulated from oversight. With evidence that meets an agreed-upon legal standard, the Inspector General should have the power to audit and review City Council programs, operations, and committees. All City Council programs, including workers’ compensation, should be subject to thorough public oversight by the Inspector General and a public committee process if it stays with the Finance Committee.  Committees should be required to broadcast committee debates online and publish all committee votes on all city council legislation on the city clerk’s public web site which they are not required to do currently.

5. Ensure an Independent City Council Leadership.  Far too often in Chicago’s history, City Council has simply been a rubber stamp for Mayors and not an independent voice and check and power.  We must elect City Council leadership positions and Committee Chairs by a secret ballot of the Aldermen. The City Council should choose its leadership the same way almost every legislative caucus across the Country chooses theirs.  A secret ballot will ensure that City Council’s leaders are most concerned with protecting an independent City Council that elects them, and not just following orders from a Mayor.

6. End “Pay-to-Play” in the 43rd Ward.  I would appoint a planning & zoning board of respected neighborhood association leaders who would be able to advise and issue recommendations on zoning decisions if I have a conflict of interest with the homeowner or developer involved.  Too often we see a “pay-to-play” culture in City Council and the 43rd Ward where developers who are major campaign donors “buy” the Aldermanic decisions they want for zoning and development.  This needs to end, and we’d start by ending it in the 43rd Ward with an independent committee.

7. Community Budget Process Including Online Tools:  Every year the Alderman’s office selects where the 43rd Ward yearly infrastructure money is spent (often called “menu” money).  Several other wards use a public, community inclusive process in-person but the 43rd hasn’t participated. I will introduce a participatory budgeting process that allows residents to discuss and debate priorities and vote in-person and online for the infrastructure projects that matter most to them.

8. Energize City Council Oversight to Protect Residents.  One of the biggest ethical challenges facing the City is City Council’s historical failure to hold oversight hearings on big issues facing the City.  Holding an oversight hearing on a controversial issue should be a rule, not an exception. To ensure property oversight, City Council should also create a more robust subcommittee system that allows significantly more Aldermen to call a hearing in their specific areas of expertise (these hearings should all be broadcast online and should not be accompanied by any additional staff or other costs).  This would help remove the ability of any Mayor to prevent a hearing on controversial subjects and reinvigorate City Council’s oversight function.

9. Unified Inspector General to Effectively Stop Corruption Across Chicago.  Chicago’s Inspector General have been hampered by splitting the office among numerous City, City Council, City contractors, and Sister Agencies.  These groups have different powers, funding, and abilities to investigate corrupt schemes that often overlap among several different IGs. Consolidating, all IG offices under one roof would help the organization achieve the scale and wide range of expertise needed to effectively investigate crimes and unethical actions across the City’s numerous governments.

10. Term Limit the Mayor and City Council to Three Terms.  Chicago’s history is replete with examples of Mayors and Aldermen using tools of patronage and insider power to keep themselves in office well past their expiration dates.  As we see from the recent Alderman Burke scandal, the 50th year is almost never as good for the City as the early years.  I would introduce an ordinance limiting both the Mayor and Aldermen to a maximum of three terms of service.