Chicago's Legislative Inspector General, Faisal Khan's, future hangs in the balance as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his aldermanic allies take action to depose the ambitious and unpopular watchdog and transfer City Council oversight duties to Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.
On Wednesday, City Council wrangled the 26 votes required to pass an ordinance that aims to cut Khan loose and empower Ferguson, City Hall's chief Inspector General, to keep tabs on wrongdoing within the chamber, an historic cesspool of campaign finance violations and other misdeeds.
Ald. Patrick O'Connor confirmed the news ahead of Wednesday's meeting.
Ironically, the City Council appointed Khan to the role in November 2011 amid efforts by then-newly minted Mayor Emanuel to crack down on corruption.
The Tribune reported Tuesday that Emanuel-aligned Faisal foes were designing a proposal that would remove their appointee and keep in place restrictions on probing anonymous tips that aldermen worry would expose them to political smears. Faisal has been barred from pursuing anonymous tips.
Stymied in his attempts to proactively investigate council members, Khan has fought to expand his power amid heavy blowback from status-quo-preserving aldermen. In a tweet Wednesday morning, he posted a link to a Sept. 3 Trib editorial outlining his grievances.
— Office of Leg I.G. (@OLIGChicago) September 10, 2014
A previous measure decreed that aldermen reserve the right to fire their appointee for unspecified "cause."
As the Sun-Times observed Wednesday, that's easier said than done. Proceedings to drop Khan could be dragged out if the watchdog—a media headline-maker unafraid to stir up controversy—wages a public battle against his government foes.
Khan has 10 days to call for a hearing "on the cause for removal" that will be presided over by the Rules and Ethics Committee and allow him to counter aldermen's complaints alongside legal counsel followed by a City Council vote. Should he choose not to submit a hearing request, his resignation will essentially be auto-tendered.
"He has lashed out at Chicago aldermen for tying his hands, ignoring his demands for records and interviews and stripping him of the power to investigate their campaign finances. He has accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of sending an 'alarmingly demoralizing message' about the importance of ethics oversight by ignoring Khan’s year-long demand for more money," writes the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman, adding: "Given that track record, Khan would almost certainly demand a hearing that could turn into an uncomfortable pre-election spectacle. He could also go to court to force the city to pay him or agree to a settlement."
Fourth Ward Ald. Will Burns tells the paper his colleagues will need to err on the side of caution to avoid "creating a martyr" (and fueling City Council's time-honored reputation for misbehavior).
Anti-Khan aldermen have accused the crusading watchdog of overstepping his authority, over-spending on small-potatoes probes and demonizing the Council to the news media.
In recent Ward Room coverage of the unfolding Khan drama, Mark Anderson made the case that resentment amounts to more than a mere "personality conflict or reasonable questions over how someone does their job."
Anderson wrote: "In fact, from Day One, the City Council as a whole has dragged its feet and even fought outright against the kind of robust oversight functions an empowered inspector general would bring. In other words: It ain’t Faisal Khan alderman don't like. It's the very idea of an office charged with robust oversight of Council activities and whatever it is alderman may do behind closed doors."
For more of Mark's extensive, essential and excellent reporting on the issue, check out these must-read posts: "Entire Aldermanic Oversight Process Shrouded in Mystery," "Council Campaign on Oversight Goes Far Beyond IG Khan" and "Latest Council Move on Campaign Finance a Disgrace."