(CBS) — Is the Chicago City Council really ready for reform?
For decades, aldermen failed to create an inspector general’s office that could investigate them.
After considerable pressure two years ago, the city council finally created a separate Legislative Inspector General’s Office to investigate council members and other elected city officials.
Now, the man hired to head the agency says a loophole in the ordinance creating the office is frustrating the ability of his office to do its job.
Rather than being able to initiate an investigation, Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan says his office has to wait until it receives a complaint from someone willing to sign a sworn statement about the allegations.
Khan said the city council has refused to address this one loophole.
“And who does that affect the most, or protect the most? City Council,” he tells 2 Investigator Pam Zekman.
The city council has a past track record for corruption convictions, including former aldermen who took cash in exchange for their help with city business.
“The most pressing issue in front of us right now,” Khan says, “is the potential for campaign-finance violations that are not being reviewed in the city currently by any law enforcement agency, including this office.”
Khan says his office should be able to routinely go online and review campaign contributions to aldermen and compare the donors to people or companies doing business with the city to see if there are any violations of city ethics rules, such as limits on donations or potential conflicts of interest.
For example, the city’s ethics ordinance prohibits anyone doing business with the city from contributing more than $1,500 to an elected official.
That could be a problem for 23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski, who chairs the council’s Aviation Committee.
Last February, for example, two companies running restaurants at O’Hare and Midway airports donated $2,000 each. A third gave $3,000. The alderman declined to comment for this report.
In a written statement, his accountant said: “If campaign contributions in excess of limitation were inadvertently accepted, those overages will be returned.”
Attorney David Hoffman once headed the city’s other internal investigative agency. He says it is not burdened with the same restrictions holding back the aldermen’s inspector general.
“Encouraging the city council to change the ordinance so that it does allow the legislative IG to operate more strongly would be a really good change and reform for the city council,” he says.
“It’s about ethics reform and investigation of corruption in this city,” Kahn says.
A way to fix the problem is pending in the city council. A city spokeswoman says the mayor’s office is working with the aldermen, the Board of Ethics and the Inspectors General to “close the unintended investigatory gap.”