Inspector general fix introduced

Members of the Chicago City Council recently introduced laws that aim to strengthen the city's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

On May 8, 20 aldermen co-sponsored a package of four proposed ordinances that, among other things, gives the OIG the authority to enforce its own subpoenas. The OIG cannot currently do so, the state Supreme Court recently ruled.

City law lets the OIG subpoena documents and witness depositions. But, when an OIG subpoena is ignored, the high court ruled that only the city's corporation counsel may file suit to enforce the subpoena. This effectively blocks the OIG when the corporation counsel represents a target of OIG investigators, such as the mayor's office.

The constraints on Cook County's inspector general are similar. In Cook County, said county inspector general Patrick Blanchard, "the law permits subpoenas by the inspector general, but is silent on enforcement."

Typically, Blanchard said, when a county agency resists an IG subpoena, the IG would ask the the state's attorney to enforce the subpoena in court. But for a recent case in which the state's attorney provides legal counsel for the target of an IG subpoena, the county court appointed a special state's attorney to litigate the subpoena. Consequently, "I'm satisfied with how our inspector general office is set" to enforce subpoenas, Blanchard said.

The proposed Chicago ordinances explicitly state that the OIG may enforce its subpoenas in court. This provision, along with several others, came from consultation with the OIG and from the court's ruling. Also, said OIG spokesman Jonathan Davey, the OIG "put out a statement regarding what we thought . . . were best practices for how an IG could be described as independent." Davey said that the proposed ordinances are consistent with the OIG's statement.

The ordinances were referred to the council's Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics, also known as the Rules Committee—where, many believe, good legislation often goes to die.

"We specifically put it into Rules," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a co-sponsor of the ordinances and member of the council's Progressive Reform Caucus. "The Rules Committee has dealt with the issue of the IG in the past . . . we were looking at it from the perspective of [which committee] makes the most sense."

Waguespack said that the ordinances' sponsors will attempt to get a committee hearing and approval. But if the committee doesn't act within 60 days, the ordinances can go to a full council vote—about which he feels confident.

"I think, between the mayor's campaign promises . . . and the good, solid number of City Council members that say that they're behind this, I think we'll be okay."

Waguespack was referring to a pledge made by candidate Rahm Emanuel that "any efforts to block the inspector general from getting information will not be tolerated."