Chicago expands whistle-blower ordinance

Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues his ethics reform efforts by including everyday citizens, not just city employees, in whistle-blower protections

October 4, 2012

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel

The city of Chicago has expanded protections for employees who blow the whistle on corruption to include citizens, too.

The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to broaden the city’s whistle-blower ordinance. The ordinance now covers all citizens who report government corruption and think they have been denied permits, benefits, loans, or employment as a form of retaliation by city officials. Before, that protection was limited to city employees who were whistle-blowers.

Some aldermen said they worried that business owners would use the new rule to target politicians who had denied them permits or other benefits for bona fide reasons. They later voted for the ordinance.

The mayor said he was “sensitive” to those concerns.

"That said, I think we work through that issue, tilting the scale towards those who want to call forward where they see corruption, misconduct, things that they don’t think are appropriate,” he said.

People who think they have been retaliated against for whistle-blowing have 30 days to report it to the city in writing, and six months to take legal action.

“This is a major step forward in making Chicago a more ethical city government, and the mayor is to be commended,” said Andy Shaw, who heads the Better Government Association watchdog group.

Shaw said the only thing he doesn’t like about the ordinance is the 30-day reporting period: “That may be too short a window. It sometimes takes people several weeks or months to work up the courage to report something that is controversial and contentious.”

But Shaw said he understands that the mayor wants to address corruption concerns as quickly as possible, adding, “Better the short timeframe than nothing at all.”