The PJ Tatler

Only in Chicago...and the Obama White House

Chicago Alderman Joe Moore is one of the most powerful figures on the City Council. He knows what levers to pull and buttons to push to get things done. He’s also proven to be somewhat innovative in his approach to governing — a rarity on the stodgy City Council.

The White House apparently believed it was time to reward Joe for his political reforms and announced on Monday that it was seeking to give him one of its open government “Champions of Change” for his policy of letting constituents decide how to use part of his budget each year. Each Alderman receives about a million dollars for an “Aldermanic menu” — part of city budgeting for decades. It’s a great slush fund that Aldermen usually use to reward friends and remove annoyances that make voters mad. There is virtually no accountability and voters have no say in how the money is spent. Moore actually held a community meeting to decide how to prioritize spending the menu money for which the White House wanted to recognize him.

One problem: Joe Moore is under investigation by the FBI.

John Byrne of the Chicago Tribune’s Clout Street blog:

Khan contends that Moore, who has represented Rogers Park since 1991, fired a woman in 2009 after she complained about political work being done in his ward office in violation of city laws. The report says Moore, 49th, paid the woman $8,709 — the equivalent of three-and-a-half months salary, and told her not to speak to anyone about the political activities in the ward office.

The report also says Moore, who has long been considered a progressive voice on the council, fired his chief of staff in 2007 and paid him $13,497 more than he should have based on the number of unused sick days the chief of staff could have accumulated.

Khan indicated that his office forwarded the information to the FBI and the Cook County state’s attorney. Moore confirmed he has spoken to FBI agents about the allegations, but called them “totally baseless.”

Moore said he paid the two employees for uncompensated overtime and unused vacation days and said he follows strict rules against any political work being done in his ward office. The alderman said both allegations came from the same disgruntled former employee, who he fired because she wasn’t getting along with other workers or performing her duties adequately.

The report comes as the White House said Moore will be honored as “a pioneer for political reform, governmental transparency and democratic governance.” The White House named Moore one of its open government “Champions of Change” for his policy of letting constituents decide how to use part of his budget each year.

That good government award didn’t stop the alderman from ripping Khan as in charge of “an office run amok with a lack of professionalism.”

Aldermen begrudgingly created the legislative inspector general job after then-Mayor Richard M. Daley floated the possibility of giving city Inspector General Joe Ferguson the power to investigate the City Council.

Khan was appointed in late 2011 to a position critics called a sham because aldermen put in place several standards that have to be met before cases can even be opened against them. Among those, people making complaints must identify themselves when accusing aldermen of wrongdoing, opening them up to retribution.

Yeah, that’s Chicago — a toddling town to be sure. Where else would you create a watchdog whose teeth are pulled and who’s put on a leash?

Moore ran into trouble back in 2005 when he was a accused of using his official office for politicking. He admitted that the chairman of his ward committee had a desk and phone in the corner of his official ward office. Alderman routinely mix ward business with city business. It’s a source of their clout and helps them control what goes on in their wards.

The fact that it’s illegal is apparently a side issue.

If Moore was buying the silence of his former employees, he certainly did it on the cheap. But there’s also an intimidation factor at work. If those employees want to work just about anywhere in the city, they knew to take the money and keep their mouths shut.

Just another day in the life of a machine politician in Chicago.