The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of City Council committee spending and employee administration, which found that some City Council committees have not maintained complete employee records in accord with the records retention requirements of the Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) and the Illinois Local Records Act. Additionally, OIG identified some committee personnel performing non-committee duties, notwithstanding requirements that governments spend funds only for their designated purposes.
City Council committees review proposed legislation within their defined subject matter areas and vote on whether to recommend passage by the full Council, hold hearings, 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, including funds specifically appropriated to pay committee personnel.
The objectives of OIG’s audit were to determine whether Council committees were in compliance with the MCC regarding employee recordkeeping and the City’s annual appropriations ordinance regarding committee expenditures and use of committee staff. OIG reviewed employment attendance records for the five committees with the largest budgets, interviewed representatives of 13 committees about undertaking non-committee work, and considered non-personnel expenditures from all committees.
OIG found that City Council needs more standardized policies and procedures in place to ensure that all City property is accounted for and that there is compliance with city and state rules and regulations. OIG determined that:
- While the five City Council committees with the largest budgets provided employee records for the current legislative term, only one provided complete records for the previous term;
- Seven committee chairs directed or allowed committee employees to spend time on non-committee matters; and
- A total of 29 non-personnel committee expenditures totaling $35,895 were made for non-committee purposes during the period of analysis, but by July 2019, Council and the City’s Department of Finance had improved operational and review processes that prevent payments unrelated to committee purposes.
OIG made several recommendations to help Council better standardize administrative and personnel practices and to eliminate compliance concerns. Specifically, OIG recommended Council should:
- require all committee employees to use an electronic timekeeping system;
- identify and formally notify the Local Records Act Commission of the past failure to retain employee attendance records;
- develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Local Records Act, to include: the identification of all relevant public records, the development of a retention schedule, procedures to ensure records are retained according to the schedule, and specific procedures to obtain approval before destroying records;
- develop and implement a transition process for transfer of all City property, including employee attendance records, to the incoming chair or the committee; and
- 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, conduct a staffing analysis, and write job descriptions with minimum requirements and expectations for all positions.
In response to our audit, City Council agreed with only a portion of our recommendations and committed to marginal changes. 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. Additionally, committee chairs will seek the assistance of the president pro tempore regarding Local Records Act compliance. Council representatives declined to comment on the missing records of prior chairs, declined to ensure that committee chairs stop directing or allowing staff to work on non-committee business or to transition away from the practice, and declined to perform a staffing analysis to determine the personnel needs of each committee.
“Complying with municipal and state laws is a minimum threshold requirement for those working in government; the maintenance of internal policies and procedures is a close second, but cannot override or clash with legal compliance. OIG’s audit reveals that Council has some distance to travel, as a body, to reach either of those comparatively modest benchmarks. Some of Council’s committees and chairs do reasonably well in both areas, while others follow anachronistic practices and maintain a culture reminiscent of the City’s colorful but less-than-noble past. Because of that past, it is reasonable to anticipate that the wide variations in recordkeeping and retention, administration, and operations may prompt public questions and concerns,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “After reviewing Council’s response to our findings, we are discouraged that aldermen are choosing, in some respects, to invoke antiquated forms of operational prerogative over contemporary standards, rigor, and accountability. Make no mistake, so long as the law is met, the prerogative is theirs. But persisting in using paper documents for timekeeping, failing to commit to mechanisms for proper management of records in an organization that undergoes substantial change every four years, and blinking the simple mathematical fact of wide disparities in resources between wards arising from the use of committee staff for non-committee work––typically, ward constituent services––sends a less than encouraging message to the taxpaying public we all serve. That said, in this engagement, we found that many members who have never been advised of general legal and regulatory obligations are eager for guidance on how to achieve compliance. We are therefore hopeful that Council and its committees may yet implement the corrective actions that we recommended in this report. Council serves the City as a whole; Council committees are whole-Council resources. The diversion of committee personnel to non-committee purposes disrupts the Council from performing the vital role of devoting itself as a body to every aspect of City government, to issues and challenges affecting the whole City. We therefore strongly encourage City Council to embrace and prioritize these administrative changes and ensure they take effect as soon as possible.”
The full report can be found on OIG’s website.
The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.