City council watchdog wants power to read aldermen's emails

July 31, 2012

Chicago’s city council watchdog wants access to aldermen's emails.

Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan made public the request in his first ever semi-annual report, released on Monday. Khan was hired late last year.

While he praised the city council for creating the office and its assistance, Khan's report mentioned a point of tension during his first months on the job.

"[T]he current primary challenge is securing unqualified and unfettered access to emails, specifically to and from City Council members and staff," Khan said. "Once a proper procedure is agreed upon regarding email access, the [office] will have gained a powerful tool to use in its investigations."

Aldermen had long resisted watchdog oversight, ignoring calls from former Mayor Richard Daley to allow the city's inspector general to investigate city council members and staff. In 2010, aldermen created the Office of Legislative Inspector General.

It took a year-and-a-half for them to hire Khan. He is only paid to work part-time and has no staff.

The office initially was budgeted at just $60,000 for all of 2012. Aldermen last month approved an additional $200,000.

"Despite the [legislative inspector general] currently being a one-person office, it has not declined any valid complaints and/or investigations due to lack of resources," Khan said in the report.

Khan wrote that, as of June 30, he had 20 pending investigations involving aldermen or city council employees. They included complaints of abuse of authority and prohibited campaign activities.

Also Monday, for the first time, Khan released more specific information about an investigation.

Khan said in a press release that he investigated an aldermanic employee who allegedly threatened the jobs of police officers. He said the employee made the threat while being arrested for buying a Chicago Transit Authority fare card from someone who does not work for the CTA. 

Khan said he substantiated the facts in the case and referred it to the city’s ethics board. The employee was not named.

"The conduct here is particularly egregious since this individual decided to threaten two veteran Chicago police officers, all because he did not want to be inconvenienced by them doing their duty," Khan said.