The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of City Council committee spending and employee administration. Council committees review proposed legislation within their defined subject matter areas and vote on whether to recommend its passage by the full Council, hold hearings (both on specific ordinances and on more general topics related to municipal governance), and process some administrative matters via legislation, such as permits for sidewalk cafés and business awnings. Each committee has its own budget in the City’s annual appropriations ordinance.
The objectives of the audit were to determine whether Council committees:
- comply with Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) § 2-8-071 regarding employee recordkeeping; and
- comply with the City’s annual appropriations ordinance regarding committee expenditures and use of committee staff.
Some City Council committees have not maintained complete employee records in accord with the records retention requirements of MCC § 2-8-071 and the Illinois Local Records Act, 50 ILCS 205/1, et seq. In addition, some committee personnel perform non-committee duties, notwithstanding state and municipal requirements that governments spend appropriated funds only for their designated purposes. Regarding committee spending, while OIG identified 29 committee non-personnel expenditures for non-committee purposes between January 2015 and July 2019, Council and the Department of Finance have since implemented improved operational and review processes to effectively mitigate the risk of such payments.
OIG requested 16 months of employee attendance records, randomly selected from June 2015 through March 2020, from the five City Council committees with the largest budgets. While the five committees provided employee records for the current legislative term, only one provided complete records for the previous term. The remaining four committees included three with no employee attendance records for 13 of the 16 months and one with no records for 9 months and only partial records for 4 months. All four of these committees use paper-based employee attendance records. The current chairs were unable to provide the majority of the records OIG requested because they were kept by previous committee chairs and not transferred when the current chairs took over in 2019. The failure to maintain these records constitutes noncompliance with both MCC § 2-8-071 and the Illinois Local Records Act, which requires municipalities to maintain records and to destroy them only after approval by the Local Records Act Commission. The fifth committee, which provided complete records, uses the City’s electronic time and attendance system.
In addition, from the total of 13 committees OIG reviewed, 7 City Council committee chairs directed or allowed committee employees to work on non-committee matters, including tasks related to the chairs’ wards. This practice constitutes noncompliance with the state and municipal requirements that governmental entities expend appropriated funds only for their designated purposes. It also results in the diversion of resources appropriated to serve Council as a whole and may create inequalities between wards by effectively giving some aldermen disproportionally more resources for their non-committee work.
Lastly, OIG identified 29 non-personnel committee expenditures totaling $35,895 made for non-committee purposes. However, by July 2019, City Council and the Department of Finance had improved operational and review processes to effectively mitigate the risk of such impermissible payments.
OIG recommends that City Council require all committees to use an electronic timekeeping system for their employees. Council should also develop a formal transition process for committee chairs that assures, among other things, that all City property, including employee attendance records, are fully accounted for and transferred to a central record repository or to the chair’s successors. Council should develop standardized policies and procedures to ensure compliance with MCC § 2-8-071 and the Illinois Local Records Act and notify the Local Records Commission of its past failure to retain employee attendance records.
OIG also recommends that Council ensure that those committee chairs directing or allowing staff to work on non-committee business develop and implement a strategy to transition away from the practice. We recommend that City Council perform an analysis to determine the personnel needs of each committee, write job descriptions with minimum requirements and expectations for all positions, and consider undertaking an analysis to determine the personnel needs for ward offices. After conducting the analysis, Council should secure and allocate the necessary resources to fund and staff each committee in a manner commensurate with Council’s judgment of the committees’ respective responsibilities and overall workloads. If Council undertakes a similar analysis to determine the personnel needs of ward offices, it should likewise allocate the necessary resources accordingly. Council might fulfill these recommendations by retaining a dedicated administrative officer both to standardize administrative and personnel practices, and to meet Council’s operational needs through coordination with the relevant City departments.
In response to our audit findings and recommendations, City Council representatives stated that Council will not require all committee employees to use an electronic timekeeping system but will develop a uniform system of paper recordkeeping. City Council representatives also stated that committee chairmen will seek the assistance of the president pro tempore regarding Local Records Act compliance. However, they declined to comment on the missing records of prior chairs. The representatives stated that the chair of the Committee on Committees will review existing protocols for transitions between chairs to determine if any revisions are needed.
City Council representatives declined to ensure that committee chairs stop directing or allowing staff to work on non-committee business or to transition away from the practice. They also declined to perform a staffing analysis to determine the personnel needs of each committee, rather relying on negotiations during the creation of committees to determine staffing levels.