Ethics Platform

Future Now Plan Susana A. Mendoza

REFORMING PRACTICES IN THE CITY COUNCIL TO REDUCE CORRUPTION

The idea

Illinois’ political culture is broken. According to a report by the University of Illinois-Chicago, Chicago continues to be the most corrupt city in the country, with over 1,700 corruption convictions in the last 40 years in the Northern Illinois Federal Judicial District, more than any other city.

From former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who Susana helped lead the impeachment charge against, to the 30 Chicago aldermen who have been convicted of political corruption since 1973, it’s clear that Chicago has a problem and needs to open a new chapter of transparency and accountability. Susana will lead the way by adopting transparency throughout her administration, reforming practices in the City Council to reduce corruption, and fighting to make campaigns more democratic.

1) Create an Anti-Corruption, Accountability, and Ethics Commission

At an earlier time, when Illinois politics was under a cloud of corruption, Dan K. Webb was one of the U.S. Attorneys that led Operation Greylord, which ended in the indictment of 92 public officials, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, eight policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight court officials, and one state legislator. Webb’s work turned the corner on judicial corruption and led to the first Solovy Commission, a groundbreaking effort to create recommendations on rooting out corruption in the Cook County judicial and administrative systems. In the wake of Chicago’s current corruption crisis, Susana has asked Dan Webb to step up again and give his counsel on how to move the city forward.

In her first official act as mayor, Susana will create an Anti-Corruption, Accountability, and Ethics Commission. The commission would be modeled upon the two “Solovy Commissions” from 1984 and 1992 that were created in the wake of Operation Greylord. The commissions made hundreds of recommendations to change the various courts and administrative departments in the Cook County system. Susana’s new Anti-Corruption Commission will also recommend additional measures to restore public confidence in the ethics of city government and fairness of elections. The Commission will be headed up by an unpaid chair who will hire an executive director and provide nominations for the appointment of 10 board members. The mayor will only be allowed to select board members from the list of nominees provided by the chair, in order to remove political considerations from the decision-making process. The Commission will conclude with a detailed report that includes a full set of recommendations, which will be released to the public.

Future Now Plan Susana A Mendoza

2) Take A Transparency Pledge

Citizens deserve to know who the mayor and other officials in City Hall are meeting with. Following in the footsteps of presidents who have released visitor logs to keep government accountable, Susana would release visitor logs to show which individuals and businesses are coming to City Hall.

As comptroller, Susana has made transparency a hallmark of her tenure. One of her key accomplishments was passing the Debt Transparency Act, which allowed citizens to easily view the state’s unpaid bills on a monthly basis, rather than a yearly basis. Susana wants to bring that kind of transparency to the mayor’s office, especially as it relates to FOIA requests. As part of a commitment to transparency, Susana will require online public logs of FOIA requests and will empower the Inspector General to review FOIA requests, responses, and appeals.

Susana would also work to eliminate loopholes in the FOIA system. For example, the Chicago Law Department has allowed aldermen to use private emails to conduct city business, and because aldermen are not subject to FOIA, this allows them to conduct city business outside of the public eye. A Cook County judge made clear that private emails could not be used to hide government business by ruling against Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As mayor, Susana will uphold that standard for herself and all aldermen.

With five different Offices of Inspectors General across the city, there is currently a fragmented patchwork of oversight.

As mayor, Susana will work to create a more comprehensive and cohesive system. Inspector General oversight should be extended to all aspects of city business, including programs within the City Council committees. Their ability to issue and enforce subpoenas should be strengthened, and they should be given the right to disclose their activities publicly.

3) Reform City Council and City Business

Susana has called for the abolition of aldermanic prerogative and she would work towards replacing it with a system that conducts approvals on the merits of individual projects based on citywide zoning rules. The system would also incorporate the feedback of subject-matter experts from relevant departments, be done on a predictable timeline, and provide honest and transparent rationales for approvals or denials.

The current system of aldermanic prerogative allows individual aldermen to make arbitrary and capricious demands of businesses, as well as prevent projects like affordable housing from moving forward. It is a relic of a bygone era and it’s time for the practice to end. Susana has called for the abolition of aldermanic prerogative and she would work towards replacing it with a system that conducts approvals on the merits of individual projects based on citywide zoning rules.

The system would also incorporate the feedback of subject-matter experts from relevant departments, be done on a predictable timeline, and provide honest and transparent rationales for approvals or denials. While ending the practice will be difficult, Susana will work to build political support behind ending aldermanic prerogative so that the informal practices can be curtailed, and she will push for changes in city ordinance and state law that will force a more transparent approval process. This would include changes to the zoning ordinance to prevent the practice of unauthorized delegation of zoning to the ward level.

Of the ten largest cities in the United States, Chicago is one of the only cities without term limits. In order to move forward from a legacy of corruption in the political culture, there has to be an influx of new public servants with fresh ideas and a willingness to give up the old way of doing business.

Many aldermen were appointed to their positions and have been able to coast on the perks of their incumbency to re-election after re-election. Term limits could even the playing field for those looking to enter public service. The chairmanships in the City Council should also be subject to term limits. In many cases, committee chairmen exercise enormous influence, which should not go unchecked.

When elected officials are allowed to hold outside employment in fields that they may influence as a public official, it creates the appearance of impropriety at best and incentives for corruption at worst.

Aldermen should be required to fully report any outside income and should be barred from receiving outside income from sources that involve conflicts of interest with city business.

When aldermen recuse themselves from votes, the public deserves to know why. As mayor, Susana will push for reform requiring that aldermen spell out their reasons for recusal under Rule 14 and be limited to a certain number of recusals before they face consequences.

Susana would require specific reasons for recusal that delineate particular business interests or personal relationships that an alderman might have, so that the public is clear on the conflicts of interest that exist. There also needs to be an end to the practice of allowing an unlimited number of recusals, which has enabled public officials to pretend that they’re acting in the interest of transparency, while continuing to hold conflicts of interest.

Consequences for taking an excessive number of recusals should include, but not be limited to, loss of chairmanships and financial penalties.

Chicago politics is a family business–and not in a good way. Mayor Richard J. Daley once responded to criticism over his attempts to steer city insurance contracts to his sons by saying that critics could “kiss the mistletoe hanging from my jacket.” It’s time for an end to that attitude and an end to the practice of nepotism in Chicago politics. Susana wants Chicago to follow the lead of cities like Boston, where an anti-nepotism law specifies that public officials are expressly prohibited from hiring immediate family members.

Susana would go further and prohibit all family members of elected officials from being hired for Shakman-exempt positions. Elected officials should be entering public office to serve, not to use their positions as leverage to secure employment for their family members.

For too long, the so-called “Chicago Way” has meant that family members of elected officials have profited at the taxpayers’ expense. It’s time to bring an end to the culture of funneling money to well-connected businesses that do questionable work. From aldermen who send TIF funds to developers that contribute to their campaign and employ their family members to questionable pension investments that lose pension dollars while creating profit for members of political families, taxpayers have been bearing the brunt of Chicago’s corrupt political culture for far too long.

As mayor, Susana will ban the dispersal of city funds to companies that are owned by or employ family members of elected officials.

4) Make Campaigns More Democratic

Susana would also work with other leaders and organizations on exploring the idea of a public “matching funds” campaign finance system that incentivizes small-dollar donations and encourages the participation of candidates who may not have access to wealthy donors.

Elections in Illinois have reached particularly absurd levels of funding. With over $250 million being spent on the governor’s race, $31 million spent in independent expenditures for legislative campaigns in 2016, over $11 million spent on the comptroller’s race in 2016, and millions flowing into the mayor’s race, it’s clear that sensible campaign finance limits should be enacted. Illinois should begin by ending the practice of candidates being allowed to “lift the cap” by contributing a sizeable amount of money to themselves.

Susana would also work with other leaders and organizations on exploring the idea of a public “matching funds” campaign finance system that incentivizes small-dollar donations and encourages the participation of candidates who may not have access to wealthy donors.

The current system for ballot access is rigged so that only those with enough resources to fight off a petition challenge have the ability to run for office. The process must become much more democratic. Chicago has some of the highest ballot access signature thresholds in the country. Running for mayor requires 12,500 notarized signatures, whereas running for governor of the entire state of Illinois only requires 5,000 signatures.

A good first step to making elections more democratic would be bringing those thresholds down to a more reasonable level. Chicago’s ballot access requirements should match those for statewide offices, with a minimum of 5,000 signatures and a maximum of 10,000 signatures.

Susana would also advocate for reforming the petition challenge process, including using technology that would verify petition signatures as people are signing so that there would be little doubt about the identity of the signer. This technology has been extremely successful in Denver, where the program eSign is used to search Colorado’s online voter registration database to verify people’s eligibility before they sign a petition. These reforms would expedite challenges, save taxpayer resources, and allow candidates to spend resources on communicating their ideas rather than fighting inane legal battles.

English