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Aldermen Endorse Expanding Whistleblower Law

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Chicago City Hall (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The City Council’s Rules and Ethics Committee has recommended approval of an expansion of the city’s Whistleblower Ordinance, to protect people and businesses who report government corruption.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Assistant Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine told aldermen the proposed expansion would protect Chicago residents and business owners who are denied city permits, services, contracts, or other benefits after reporting government wrongdoing.

“It gives them a vehicle for getting into court, that they can point to and say … ‘Here’s the basis for the court to be exercising jurisdiction,’” Levine said.

The existing ordinance protects city employees from retaliation for blowing the whistle on corruption.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) was among several aldermen who said they were concerned they would be the target of false claims after properly denying business permits or other government benefits.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Fioretti said he’s worried that, if a permit is refused for what he called a “bad business,” the owner might use the whistleblower law to retaliate.

“Some of these bad businesses make up a lot of stories. Bad liquor stores make them up, and bad grocery stores make up stories,” Fioretti said. “It’s a good ordinance, but we may be having a few complaints, and we’ll have to deal with them. That’s what we’re here for, as being elected officials, but we can’t step over the boundaries.”

Fioretti famously clashed with the owner of the now shuttered Felony Franks hot dog stand for more than two years, over a sign owner Jim Andrews wanted to put up. Fioretti had objected to the theme of the hot dog stand – which went out of its way to hire only ex-convicts – saying the name and theme of the business were in poor taste.

But Andrews filed a lawsuit when Fioretti denied him a permit for a sign over the sidewalk, and the city eventually settled the case and allowed him to put up the sign, featuring the eatery’s logo – a hot dog dressed in stereotypical striped prison garb and shackled to a ball and chain.

Felony Franks closed its West Side location earlier this year, after Andrews said a nearby liquor store had begun driving away his customers, making it impossible for him to stay in business at Jackson and Western. A Pennsylvania businessman partnered with Andrews to open a new site in Evanston.

Levine said aldermen shouldn’t worry, provided they provide a clear record explaining their actions when denying a city permit, license, or other benefit.

“Action taken for legitimate reasons has always been, and continues to be protected,” he said.

The expansion of the whistleblower ordinance goes to the full City Council on Wednesday, and has the support of the mayor.

Under the expansion of the ordinance, whistleblowers would be required to bring any alleged government wrongdoing to the city’s Law Department and the head of the department involved in the matter within 30 days, to allow for the city to correct the problem.

If the matter is not resolved, the whistleblower would then have six months to file a lawsuit over the matter.