Just how dumb does the Chicago City Council believe its constituents to be?
Really, really dumb.
Aldermen on Wednesday approved an ordinance that weakens their own inspector general. They hope Chicago voters will believe the baloney that the City Council was merely "closing a loophole." That's quite a chunk of Oscar Mayer to choke down.
To review: The aldermen hired Inspector General Faisal Khan in 2011 to be their watchdog on ethics matters. When he arrived they gave him no investigative staff, insisted he get sworn statements from all whistleblowers (a surefire chilling effect), and told him he couldn't launch investigations without approval from the Chicago Board of Ethics.
That board, appointed by the mayor, has not issued a finding against an alderman in more than 25 years. During that time, more than 20 aldermen have been convicted of felonies.
And now, more of the same council self-protection as the aldermen further insulate themselves from Khan.
Until Wednesday, Khan had been doing the job of investigating complaints about aldermanic conduct. He has wanted the authority to initiate investigations, just like other inspectors general, rather than have to wait for signed, sworn complaints. Instead, the council gave that power to the do-little ethics board — which doesn't even want the responsibility.
Led by Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th — who, the Tribune reported Thursday, faces allegations that he violated the city's ethics rules — the council speedily passed an ordinance that limits how soon and how far Khan can go with his inquiries. And the ethics board now has the awkward roles of initiating investigations and also adjudicating them.
Was O'Connor, who knew there was an ongoing ethics probe into his fundraising, deliberately trying to thwart Khan? O'Connor denies that he was. O'Connor told the Tribune his ordinance strengthening the ethics board, a seven-member panel, had nothing to do with his case. O'Connor insisted he engaged in no wrongdoing.
"Unequivocally, no, there will not be any finding against me," he said.
Whatever the motivation here, why would council members make themselves look foolish by reducing Khan's authority to look at them?
Oh, yes. We remember: Chicago aldermen place top priority on protecting their collective behinds. They might occasionally battle it out on policy or budget issues, but there's one thing you can count on them to do in lock step: thwart transparency.
Khan says the council's vote now jeopardizes dozens of investigations he had been pursuing. Which is exactly what aldermen evidently wanted.
Since the day Khan arrived, the City Council has been largely uncooperative. Aldermen and staff members often don't turn over documents. They don't return messages. Sometimes, they don't even show up for scheduled interviews. Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the past has brushed off Khan's reports, at one point saying he had neither the "time or interest" to read them.
Some council members would love for Khan to resign out of frustration. In the meantime, they've voted to undercut him.
O'Connor's ordinance passed 42-6.
Ald. Natashia Holmes, 7th, was absent and Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, did not vote.
If you live in Chicago and your alderman went along with this, he or she voted against better government and hoped you were too dumb to notice.
That vote might be the most revealing roll call of 2014. Remember it when your alderman's name appears on the February primary election ballot.