Despite lack of resources, OLIG investigates City Council ethics violations

Faisal Khan

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n increase in complaints and caseloads paired with a stagnant budget since the Office of the Legislative Inspector General(OLIG) opened three years ago has hampered ethical and professional misconduct investigations and is seeding distrust with the City Council, announced the office this past week.

“Unfortunately, oversight of the Chicago City Council has more often looked out of balance than in sync these past few years,” read the report by the Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan.

The nonpartisan office was created by the City Council to investigate complaints of ethical and professional misconduct by alderman and their staff.

But in the years since the OLIG opened, the budget has not increased beyond its starting amount despite an increase in complaints. Their annual budget is $354,000, which is the lowest of any active city agency, according to the report.

The problem lies with the fact that the ones who control the budget are the ones that the office is investigating.

“One of the greatest barriers to our success has been a lack of institutional support,” read the report.

“It’s an unnatural and awkward position to be in appeal to the people we are monitoring,” explained OLIG Chief of Staff Kelly Tarrant. Tarrant said that the office should be an independent investigative body to function properly.

The news is foreboding as the OLIG is facing some of its heaviest workloads yet.

In the last 13 months, the OLIG received 128 complaints. In addition to “430 possible campaign finance violations by the Board of Ethics from 2013 alone,” read the report.

The office employs a total staff, including administrative assistants, of seven people, according to Tarrant. The staff does not have paid vacation or sick days, does not receive benefits and are hourly employees, said Tarrant.

The natures of the complaints in the semi-annual report are categorized from assault and bribery to abuse of authority and conduct unbecoming. The most complaints in a single category are 27 for abuse of authority.

“An example of abuse of authority might be when an alderman refuses to see a resident or issue a parking permit,” said Tarrant. Tarrant said that complaints could come in for alderman staff as well.

Conduct unbecoming may be where an alderman is rude or outright disrespectful to a resident in public. This can also translate to social media on Facebook or Twitter, said Tarrant.

Tarrant said that this past year’s elections have attributed to the office’s last six busy months and she expects it to escalate with the February elections this coming week.

But despite the difficulties, Tarrant said that the office remains optimistic and will continue to work and investigate complaints and cases.

“Chicago’s City Council has come to a point from where there is no return; there will never again be a situation where they are not subject to real and meaningful ethical oversight,” concluded the report.

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