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IG To Rahm: Stop Blocking City Hall Investigations

To the Mayor, Members of the City Council, the City Clerk, the City Treasurer, and the residents of the City of Chicago:

Enclosed for your review is the public report on the operations of the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (IGO) during the first quarter of 2013, filed with the City Council pursuant to Section 2-56-120 of the Municipal Code of Chicago.

As in prior Quarterly Reports, we provide a brief snapshot of our office activity, which cannot fully reflect the total picture of our activity, or the challenges we face. The Mayor has stated that he considers the IGO to be a key partner in ferreting out waste, fraud, and abuse, but maintains that the IGO does not need more power. As I have stated previously, we consider the IGO ordinance to be a promise by the City to ensure effective government oversight, and this office seeks only the baseline standards and authority for that to occur.

Thus the fundamental issue is not one of power, but of independence - the independence necessary to fulfill this promise.

To meet its mission of detecting and deterring waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in City government, the IGO investigates, audits, and reviews a vast array of City programs, policies, procedures, and processes. These encompass every operative function of City government, including procurement, hiring, public safety, licensing, and residential services.

Including state and federal grants, the City spends more than $8 billion annually, employs more than 30,000 people, and is a critical public service provider to millions more.

To do this job well, we need three things. We need talent, access, and City leadership that supports the mission not just with words, but with deeds.

I am proud of our efforts to recruit, train, and retain talented auditors, investigators, attorneys, and support staff. The diversity of our collective experience is integral to the accomplishment of our mission, and I will continue to consistently strive to improve it with every hire I make.

However, all of the talent in the world cannot overcome a lack of access to City information, records, and documents.

Throughout the course of our work, we seek access and have been granted access to information in various forms. But there have been times when such access has been denied.

A public example of that dispute is provided in the Ferguson v. Patton lawsuit recently decided in the Illinois Supreme Court. In that case we were forced to seek judicial enforcement of a subpoena for information held by the Law Department, for which it claimed attorney client and work product privileges - in short, we sought to overcome a public official's refusal to provide the public's information to the public's oversight body investigating possible misconduct by public officials. The Circuit Court's dismissal of this action was reversed by the Appellate Court, and the action came before the Supreme Court.

Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the IGO's enabling City ordinance does not give the IGO the statutory authority to enforce its own subpoenas. Based on the Court's reading of the law, the IGO must go to the City's Corporation Counsel to enforce its subpoenas. When the Corporation Counsel chooses not to, or has a conflict of interest (as the Court found to be the case in the very investigation underlying this lawsuit) the IGO's only recourse is to appeal to the Mayor, even when the investigation involves, or is directed at, the Office of the Mayor, or even the Mayor himself.

The Supreme Court observed that the City could provide a resolution to this issue by amending City law, but has yet to do so.

In light of this decision, I have formally asked the Mayor to provide the information sought by subpoena which is necessary for a complete investigation of this matter. The Mayor did not respond to the request.

Accordingly, the investigation will proceed to disposition on the basis of the information that is available, as we do in all cases. But the public should know that such an investigation will be significantly hampered by a continued refusal to provide the very information that the City Council has promised our office should be able to access.

The investigation underlying the lawsuit is not an anomaly. The IGO has been denied access to relevant City records in a number of other investigations.

Moving forward, we therefore will make it standard procedure to ask the Mayor to provide the access to which we are entitled by City ordinance when that access is thwarted. When access is expressly denied or, as in the matter litigated to the Supreme Court, no response is received to our requests, investigations likely will be closed and the lack of access will be reported publicly. If it involves hiring, it will be duly reported to the Shakman Monitor.

As I noted when the Supreme Court issued its decision, Chicago residents and taxpayers should be aware of the IGO's jurisdictional limitations and what that can mean for our operations, be they investigations, audits, or oversight of the City's employment practices governed by the Shakman accord.

In sum, a lack of full access results in less complete investigations and less complete analysis - in short, less than the complete oversight mandated and promised by ordinance - and deserved by Chicago citizens.

This office does not seek special authority or treatment; rather, it seeks that which inspectors' general with similar statutory mandates have - complete access to documents and records under its jurisdiction and the power to enforce its subpoenas without the approval and permission of the very subjects of the subpoenas. But not in the City of Chicago.


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 22, 2013

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