A response to Alderman Ed Burke’s federal indictment and decades of political corruption, Enyia’s proposals outline a series of checks and balances to reduce aldermanic abuse of power, strengthen the Inspector General’s (IG) office, increase transparency, and elevate public input on key policy decisions.
1. Pass an ordinance to remove executive functions from aldermen and transfer those processes and decisions to relevant city departments
Unlike most other major cities, Chicago alderman have both legislative and executive authority within their ward, giving them a sort of ‘mini-mayor’ power that breeds corruption and abuse of power. The mayor’s office should spearhead legislation to transfer executive and administrative powers from alderman to relevant city departments, including zoning, licensing, financing and accounting, and contracting.
2. Pass legislation to give the Mayor and City Inspector General power to investigate any part of city government
In 2016, the City Council gave the Inspector General new power to investigate alleged illegal and unethical activity by aldermen and their staff. However, this law was watered down from the original proposal to give the Inspector General the authority to audit all City Council committees. City Council needs to pass the original ordinance so the Inspector General can investigate all committees, departments, agencies and independent partners involved. Such legislation will also move the workers’ compensation program into the city’s Finance Department.
3. Develop an IG-led commission to investigate aldermanic activity to identify political corruption, unethical behavior, and corporate influence
Political corruption is systemic in Chicago. To clean up our government, prior instances of abuse of power and unethical behavior need to be properly investigated. The Inspector General should be authorized to develop a commission, made up of investigators and community members, to root out and document any instances of unethical or illegal behavior. (Similar to NY’s Moreland Commission)
4. End side-jobs and other forms of employment for aldermen
Chicago aldermen make over $100,000 a year. There’s no reason for aldermen to have second jobs, especially when it creates conflicts of interest or opportunities to profit from office. Secondary employment must be prohibited by city law.
5. Increase transparency with more accessible public hearings that leverage technology and span across Chicago neighborhoods
City government needs to be intentional about seeking public input for major policy decisions. Chicago needs more community hearings across underserved neighborhoods, hosted at reasonable hours to ensure maximum attendance. Leading innovators and entrepreneurs should be tapped to develop tech solutions that will increase public engagement, such as live-streaming community hearings and city council meetings and developing app solutions to facilitate constituent services and collect public opinion.
6. Examine all city departments to audit, evaluate, and publicize the validity of no-bid contracts
Unfortunately, Chicago has a history of awarding no-bid contracts have been tied to kickbacks, fraud, and other forms of corruption. Without accountability, outside oversight, internal controls, and transparency with the public, taxpayer funds are wasted on quid pro quos between business interests and public officials. Every contract that has been awarded without competition needs to be examined by the Inspector General to ensure there are no concerns of impropriety.
7. Explore the creation of an Office of Public Advocate, an elected position that will erase aldermanic privilege by convening community leaders for public input on major Aldermanic decisions
One major source of corruption in Chicago is aldermanic privilege, where Alderman make major decisions unilaterally without input from other aldermen or community members. We need government reform that elevates public opinion above real estate developers, corporate interest, and political donors. Based on New York City1, we can explore the creation of an Office of Public Advocate who will help restrain aldermanic power by amplifying community voices. This office would arrange public consent to all major aldermanic decisions, such as approval of major redevelopments.