Embattled Ald. Edward Burke allegedly violated Chicago’s ethics ordinance when he used “improper influence” on behalf of labor unions who hired his private law firm but had contracts and workers’ compensation claims approved by the City Council, according to a new complaint.
Burke already is under federal investigation and was charged in January with attempted extortion after he allegedly used his influence to steer business to his firm. Chicago’s Ethics Board slapped the 14th Ward City Council member with a $2,000 fine after he participated in a fierce committee debate over millions of dollars in tax incentives that were awarded another client.
Now, activist Jay Stone said Wednesday that he has filed a complaint with City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office challenging Burke’s legal work for unions representing local operating engineers, iron workers, laborers, plumbers, carpenters, firefighters, electrical workers and Teamsters.
“Ald. Burke should never have accepted the unions as a law firm client, because of their existing contracts,” said Stone, the son of former 50th Ward Ald. Bernard Stone.
“It’s a conflict of interest. You have the interests of the union and the interests of the city’s. As an alderman, you have to put the interests of the constituents and the city first.”
The complaint alleges it was improper for Burke to vote for the unions’ collective bargaining agreements and also represent them as an attorney because it created an apparent conflict of interest. Burke also had an alleged conflict of interest by representing unions whose members had workers’ compensation claims pending before the Finance Committee he chaired.
A city-commissioned audit released last week concluded the city’s workers’ compensation program needs “substantial improvement” to operate effectively and detect potential corruption, and that it operated for years with scant oversight from other departments.
Stone filed his complaint alongside Patrick McDonough, a veteran Water Department employee and frequent critic of city hiring practices.
A representative of Ferguson’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A man who answered the phone at Burke’s home declined to comment.
Stone also has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Burke and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel that challenged the Finance Committee’s oversight of the city’s workers’ compensation program. He also won a $75,000 settlement under the city’s historic Shakman hiring decree, after losing an election to an incumbent alderman backed by a political patronage army.
The Board of Ethics could sanction Burke over Stone’s latest complaint, a spokesman said, but only if Ferguson’s office investigates the matter and forwards its conclusions to ethics officials for consideration.
“The city has its ethics ordinance just to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and this is exactly what you’ve got with Ald. Burke serving as a legal representative of the unions and pushing their collective bargaining agreements to the Committee on Finance and the City Council,” Stone said.