The city’s “duty disability” program, which compensates workers injured on the job, has made the news lately as being potentially rife with abuse. City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has tried to investigate the program, but said in a statement this morning that the Chicago City Council Finance Committee, chaired by Ald. Ed Burke (14th), is blocking his probe.
The conflict comes as the IG gears up to fight the city in Illinois Supreme Court.
As outlined in letters available on the IG's Web site, Ferguson made a request May 18 for access to the duty disability database from the Finance Committee, which administers the program. Ferguson pointed out that with a 2012 budget of $97.5 million duty disability is a “major city program not previously reviewed” by the IG’s office.
Marla Kaiden, chief administrative officer for the committee, responded in a June 6 letter that Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan had jurisdiction over duty disability, not Ferguson, who investigates the executive administration.
Ferguson then responded in a June 18 missive that, in fact, the Legislative IG is limited to investigating city council members and staff and “has no jurisdiction to review City funded or administered programs.” Kaiden held firm to the committee's position in a July 24 letter, prompting Ferguson to make these correspondences public today.
Donal Quinlan, spokesman for the committee, said in a statement that, “The Finance Committee did not deny Mr. Ferguson’s request.”
“We simply asked him to provide a compelling reason why he would have legal jurisdiction over this matter instead of the Legislative Inspector General, who appears to have exclusive jurisdiction over the members, employees and programs of the city council,” the statement read. Further, Quinlan stated that the committee wanted Legislative IG Khan to address the jurisdictional question.
The dispute has been made public a week after the Sun-Times ran a series of stories that gave anecdotal evidence of program waste and fraud. For example, a former police officer collects taxpayer-funded disability even as he is fully recovered and now works as an attorney.
In response to the news investigation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he wanted the police pension board to recommend reforms to a program sullied by “a few bad actors,” according to the Sun-Times.
However, Ferguson’s office contends that the whole point of their investigation is to discern if the disability program is in need of systemic reform or if accusations of mismanagement are overblown.
Ferguson is fighting Burke, as he readies for an Illinois Supreme Court date with the mayor’s office. At issue is no less than whether the IG can access executive administration documents it subpoenaed. The mayor’s office has contended that attorney-client privilege can sometimes trump an IG subpoena.
The case will be heard in September at the soonest.