Chicago Tribune Editorial: Chicago workers' comp: $100 million a year, but no oversight

Alderman Edward Burke Chicago 14 Th Ward.jpg

Editorials reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board, as determined by the members of the board, the editorial page editor and the publisher.
It might be tempting to brush off a lawsuit filed recently against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, as politically motivated.

Two longtime critics of City Hall accuse Emanuel and Burke of violating Illinois law and the state and U.S. constitutions. The alleged infraction? Allowing Burke, through the City Council Finance Committee he chairs, to administer the city’s workers’ compensation program. The suit argues that the program, which costs taxpayers at least $100 million per year, according to a 2016 inspector general report, should be run by a City Hall agency, human resources professionals or the Law Department.

The suit says the current arrangement — which is spelled out in the Chicago Municipal Code — is unconstitutional because it assigns executive functions to the legislative branch. We’ll leave that question to the courts. There’s zero doubt, however, that vesting complete control of the workers’ comp fund in a single committee chair, shielded from oversight, is a terrible idea.

Burke’s role as the gatekeeper of workers’ comp benefits for the entire city of Chicago invites cynicism, and rightfully so. The lawsuit alleges that Burke, who has chaired the finance committee for 33 of the last 35 years, leverages his position to load up his staff with patronage workers. The role also allows him to dole out favors as he determines the outcomes of hundreds of cases of city workers who claim they were injured on the job.

The lawsuit says jobs and disability benefits are awarded to precinct captains and others who help secure votes for Burke and candidates he supports. It says Emanuel has relinquished control of the workers’ comp fund to Burke because Burke helps round up City Council votes for measures pushed by the mayor. We’d like to see data to back up those claims, but that’s the point. Everything ends at Burke.

We have long argued, along with a few members of the City Council, that city Inspector General Joe Ferguson should have the authority to audit the program. Someone other than Burke and his staff should be reviewing cases and claims that involve public workers and taxpayer money.

But Burke, assisted by weak-kneed aldermen, has managed to wall off his committee from the purview of Ferguson’s office. The City Council in 2016 helped him by gutting an ordinance that would have given Ferguson the authority to examine Burke’s books. This was after many aldermen claimed to be in favor of it a year earlier, during election season. Then they flipped.

It was outrageous then and it’s outrageous now.

By comparison, Cook County’s workers’ comp committee, chaired by County Board member Tim Schneider, R-Bartlett, reviews and signs off on decisions that are made by experts in the county’s risk management department and the state’s attorney’s office. Schneider doesn’t have a staff. He isn’t negotiating compensation decisions. And the committee and its cases are open to the scrutiny of the county inspector general and the public. Cases that require a settlement eventually come to the full County Board for approval.

At the state level, it’s similar. Lawmakers who head up House and Senate committees on public health or transportation or education don’t actually administer programs in those subject areas. The agency heads and staff who work for the state of Illinois do.

The federal lawsuit filed by Jay Stone and Patrick McDonough — two activists with a long history of fighting City Hall — asks a judge to order the city to assign the workers’ comp program to the executive branch and to grant the inspector general permission to conduct an audit and claims review and to release the results to the public. For now, City Hall isn’t commenting.

We’re happy the plaintiffs are calling attention to an issue Chicago’s elected officials have worked very hard to duck.

Emanuel and every candidate on the ballot in 2019 should be on the hot seat regarding this question: Why should an elected alderman continue to act as a program administrator, in the dark, on an issue as expensive and important as workers’ comp? And why should he (or anyone) operate outside the watchful eye of an inspector general?

It’s a blot on Chicago government that is long overdue for a fix. Who will have the guts to do it?

Ms. Leven of Better Government Association weighs in on Illinois Workers Compensation

Leven: Put Responsibility for Compensating Injured City workers in the City’s Hands
Chicago is the only major city to pay injured workers out of its legislative body. Changing that could be something for some enterprising aldermanic candidates to champion.
By Rachel L. Leven August 3, 2018
Perspective

Pop Quiz: Who manages the annual expenditure of more than $100 million to approve and compensate city workers for on-the-job injuries? Is it the head of human resources? Nope. Maybe the city’s top lawyer? Try again. Then it must go straight to the mayor? Wrong. It’s the finance committee of the city council. And virtually everyone knows, it shouldn’t be.

Chicago is the only major city to pay injured workers out of its legislative body. For example, in New York City, the function is located within the legal department. In San Francisco, Houston, and Los Angeles, the function is in the human resources and personnel departments. The way Chicago manages its program enables a lack of transparency, poor oversight, and a shirking of responsibilities to both workers and taxpayers.

Let’s start with transparency. The Corporation of the City of Chicago and its employees are subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The extent to which aldermen are subject to FOIA is a much more complicated question, according to Better Government Association counsel Matt Topic. A benevolent committee chair could decide to make sunshine the default, freely providing appropriate records when they are requested. But, as long as claims are paid by the city council, the chair – whomever is sitting in the position now or in the future – gets to make that decision.

The shadow extends to oversight. According to its jurisdiction, the city’s Office of Inspector General should be able to investigate misconduct within the city council. However, audits of the city council were specifically carved out from the inspector general’s powers. That means the $100 million plus spent on injured workers annually is not something the office can proactively monitor or audit.

And, it’s not just the inspector general, the workers’ compensation program historically has been a black box for the city’s administration too. Even though the city provides funds for workers’ claims from its own coffers, according to a 2016 inspector general report, the city’s law and finance departments did not have direct access to the workers compensation claims data kept by the city’s finance committee. So who ultimately is responsible for managing taxpayer risk and improving workers’ health? Not the city council. They only process the claims. They don’t run the city’s services, training, or human resource operations. It’s the city administration that is responsible, which is exactly why it’s city managers who should run the program, not lawmakers.

A lawsuit recently was filed by Jay Stone and Patrick McDonough arguing that the placement of the workers’ compensation claims program within the city council violates the separation of powers outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Jay Stone is the son of former Alderman Bernie Stone and was awarded $75,000 after an independent monitor found city workers helped defeat him in his own race for city council. Patrick McDonough is also a former political candidate and an injured worker who believes the committee mishandled his claim. This is not the first time the pair has made a run at the finance committee’s powers. It remains unclear if this attempt will be any more successful than previous ones.

However, Stone and McDonough aren’t the only ones concerned about the placement of workers’ comp, just the most dogged. A 2016 city council resolution called for hearings on the subject. It had two sponsors and went nowhere. Changing who oversees workers’ comp claims is not an easy sell politically and would take the support of some powerful people in the city council and the administration or a demand from residents. But an election is on the horizon, so maybe it’s time for another attempt at taking workers’ comp away from the finance committee. This could be a good government change for some enterprising aldermanic candidates to champion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel L. Leven
Rachel Leven is the BGA’s policy manager focusing on Chicago and Cook County. Before joining the BGA, Leven ran communications for the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG), a nationally renowned municipal oversight agency.

A final salute to Michael Dwyer General Superintendent DOWM North District

If you read the below column by Fran Spielman, you have a great interpretation of the Department of Water Management. The City of Chicago Department of Water Management is the worst run water department in the United States. In the article, Fran Spielman laid out the termination (firing) (AKA retirement) of Michael Dwyer. Michael was in my opinion, one of the best foreman in the Department. The Department of Water Management rarely promotes people that are capable of leadership. When Michael was foreman, he was very competent although sometimes too demanding. Michael was very loyal to the Chicago Water Department and seemed thankful for his job. Not long ago, Michael was a shooting star and went from Assistant District Superintendent to Superintendent, to General Superintendent. (a non-union position)

When Michael was my boss, he was very direct but knew how to be thankful for a job well done. Michael also expected a certain amount of work. A good boss has a reasonable amount of expectations from people under his authority. When Michael was an Assistant Superintendent, his manners were outstanding. He made requests from the Investigator Crews and always prioritized by need, not by political connections. I never saw him request an emergency investigation because of an Alderman, or Commissioner special demand. So, in my regard, I rate him extremely high in the type of person that should lead.

I was not around when Michael Dwyer became Superintendent. I heard from many workers he was too demanding and making changes the political folks did not want. “He is stepping on the wrong toes”. I just want everyone to know, they fired Michael Dwyer. Plain and simple. I remember Michael was severely injured when he fell into a ditch years ago. There is a certain group that really run the Department of Water Management, I am going to do a story on these slobs. Just absolute scum. My friends at the Jardine Plant told me, Michael Dwyer was given an ultimatum of firing or retiring in just a few minutes. Time for Chicago Clout to work these scumbags out of a job a.s.a.p. Count on it. Randy Conner appointed Michael Dwyer, so this is on him.

Burke’s 40 Off Book Employees Cost Taxpayer’s an Extra $1.4 Million a Year

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 47 alderman approved the 2018 budget for the Committee on Finance (COF), Ald. Edward Burke had misinformed them about the number of employees working for his committee and the amount of money that the city was paying for their salaries. Burke’s budget list 25 COF employees for the 2018 fiscal year.1 The COF said in Feb., 2018 that 65 employees were working in the COF.2 Currently Burke’s COF staff of 65 has 40 more employees than the 25 COF employees listed in his 2018 budget.

In Oct. 2017 the COF said it had 62 employees working in the COF.3 Since the COF admitted Burke’s committee had 62 COF employees in Oct., 2017, it means Burke lied about the size of his staff when he and his colleagues passed his 2018 COF budget for 25 employees in Nov., 2017.

Off book means, “not properly declared for accounting purposes.” Today Burke’s committee has 40 off book COF employees because Burke failed to properly declare 40 of his COF employees in the 2018 budget. Simple subtraction was all that was needed to determine Burke’s 40 off book COF employees (see below).

65 COF employees listed in Feb., 2018 FOIA
(25) COF employees listed in Chicago’s 2018 budget
40 Off Book COF Employees

The COF has 40 employees whose salaries were also unaccounted for in the 2018 budget. The city is currently spending additional money to pay the salaries of Burke’s 40 off book COF employees. In February, 2018, the COF admitted that the current cost of COF employees’ salaries is $3.2 million a year.2 Again, simple subtraction was all that was needed to determine that the city is paying out an additional $1.4 million a year for Burke’s off book COF salaries (see below).

$3.2 Million listed for COF employees’s salaries in the Feb., 2018 FOIA
($1.8) Million listed for COF employees’s salaries in 2018 Budget
$1.4 Million for the Off Book Salaries of Burke’s COF Employees

Burke Stopped the Inspector General Ordinance to Hide His Off Book Employees
In 2016 Burke put together a coalition of 25 aldermen to block the inspector general (IG) from auditing and investigating his COF. There have been countless accusations of Burke’s misconduct during his 39 year reign as an alderman. Stopping the IG from investigating his committee is by far the worse allegation against Burke because Burke had a city ordinance passed to protect his wrongdoing. Burke was improperly hiring and employing his off book staff at the same time he blocked the IG from investigating him. Thanks to the City Council passing the ordinance Burke proposed, no one at the IG’s office can investigate Burke’s committee. Sadly, the IG conducting a simple audit would have exposed Burke’s 40 off book COF employees and the additional $1.4 million yearly cost to taxpayers.

Besides the $1.4 million a year in COF off book salaries, the taxpayers must pay for Burke’s off book employees’ health insurance and pensions. The city is paying for part of every COF off book employee’s health insurance. In addition, taxpayers are also contributing to Burke’s off book COF employees’ pensions.

Burke has 20 COF employees who earn between $23,108 and $29,208 a year.2 Burke pays 20 COF employees in the $20,000 to $30,000 a year range so he can hire more people for his COF staff. Burke uses his COF employees for patronage, so the more COF employees he hires, the more people Burke has to campaign for him and his favored candidates. Unfortunately taxpayers must continue to foot the bill for health insurance, pensions, and salaries for all of Burke’s off book patronage hiring.

Call to Action
Exposing Ald. Burke’s political corruption is one thing, but stopping the corruption and preventing it from happening again is the ultimate goal. Below are four actions that will stop and prevent COF corruption practices that come at a hefty cost to taxpayers.

Pass a Chicago Inspector General Ordinance that allows the IG to investigate aldermanic programs and committees beginning with the COF.
The second Mayor Emanuel signs the IG ordinance, the IG should start an audit of Ald. Burke’s Committee on Finance for the last seven years.
Remove Ald. Burke as City Council Committee on Finance Chairman. During Council Wars in the 1980s, a judge ruled that the City Council is a separate branch of government and has a right to organize itself. Aldermen don’t have to wait until after the 2019 elections to end Burke’s 30 year reign as COF chairman. How ironic that thanks to Burke and the rest of the Vrdolyak 29’s actions in the 1980s, a majority of aldermen may vote in 2018 to remove Burke as COF Chairmen.
Transfer the management of the Workers’ Compensation program from the COF to the executive branch of government. Except for Chicago no city or state in the country has a legislative committee managing it workers’ comp program. Professionals should run Chicago workers’ comp instead of a bunch of political hacks that work for Ald. Burke.
Notes

Alderman Burke and Rahm Emanuel in the Crosshairs. Feds Investigate Corruption

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Lied in Federal Court
Emanuel Restarts Corrupt Political Practices that Previously Led to 60 Convictions

Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a whopper of a lie on June 16, 2014 in U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier’s standing room only courtroom. Dozens of Chicago style political discrimination victims, journalists, and other interested parties all came together for the historic removal of the federal court monitor. Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration rigged interviews for job applicants who secretly campaigned for Daley backed candidates for 16 years. Consequently, in 2004 Judge Wayne Andersen appointed Noelle Brennan as a federal court monitor to oversee the City of Chicago’s personnel decisions. About 60 city employees either plead guilty or were convicted for their role in Chicago’s job and election rigging scheme. It took 10 years, a new mayor, the retirement of Judge Andersen, and the City of Chicago spending over $200 million in civil rights settlements, legal fees and human resource changes before Judge Schenkier agreed to end the federal court’s oversight.
Mayor Emanuel and the city agreed to follow a Hiring Plan in return for the removal of the federal court monitor. Some of the Hiring Plan’s anti-corruption rules and procedures were making the Human Resource Department the “gatekeeper” of all city jobs instead of the mayor’s office, giving the Inspector General Office (IGO) hiring oversight and investigative authority. The IGO’s webpage states that it took over the federal court monitor’s duties on the day Emanuel testified in federal court.
Judge Schenkier said, the city has “… a set of rules, procedures and internal policing requirements to keep politics out of hiring.” The IGO’s investigative authority is the “internal policing” that Judge Schenkier referenced. Mayor Emanuel also acknowledged that the IGO must continue its work in order to keep politics out of city hiring. Emanuel testified, “We must remain vigilant, working cooperatively with Inspector General Ferguson and his hiring oversight team to help keep us on this path from which we must never stray again.”
On Feb. 10, 2016 the City Council voted to restrict the IGO’s investigative authority. Thus, 18 months after Mayor Emanuel pledged to work cooperatively with the IGO, Emanuel was complicit in taking away the IGO’s investigation powers that he agreed to follow in federal court. Mayor Emanuel published nine press releases for ordinances that were approved on the day the City Council voted to reduce the IGO’s authority, but none of Emanuel’s nine press releases addresses the hot-button issue of the IGO’s reduced authority that the mayor said was essential to stopping corruption when he spoke in federal court.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel lied in federal court when he promised to stay “vigilant” and “cooperate” with the IGO to keep Chicago moving forward. Emanuel sticking his head in the sand while his political allies passed the water-downed IGO ordinance is obstructionism, not the cooperation that Emanuel publicly pledged. The IGO has the expertise, experience, and resources to root out corruption. When Mayor Emanuel gave his blessings to handcuff the IGO, he was anything but vigilant as he had promised to maintain. If Mayor Emanuel truly meant what he said in federal court, he would have vetoed the IGO ordinance without a moment’s hesitation. Instead of Emanuel being true to his words in federal court, Emanuel acted like a coward by saying he merely went along with the aldermen.
The next section discusses how corruption and another potential civil rights lawsuit have resulted from Emanuel’s failure to veto the ordinance that restricts the IGO’s investigative authority.
Mayor Emanuel’s Lies are Preventing IGO Investigation
On February 23, 2016 I filed a complaint with the IGO because Alderman Burke is managing the Chicago’s Workers Compensation Division through his aldermanic Committee on Finance (COF). The workers’ compensation program belongs in the executive branch of government as it is everywhere else in this country, not in Burke’s legislative committee. The next day Chicago Sun Times reporter Fran Spielman published a story in which attorney Michael Shakman said he agreed with me. Mr. Shakman said he made a mistake by allowing patronage employees to run Chicago’s Worker’s Compensation Division. Four days after my IGO complaint, the Sun Times published an editorial that called for moving Chicago’s workers comp program from Ald. Burke’s committee to a city department.
The Richard M. Daley administration committed political discrimination because it awarded government jobs and promotions in a quid pro quo exchange for campaign work. Candidates, such as Mayor Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, did not pay for their campaign workers. The city compensated Daley and Emanuel’s congressional campaign workers in the form of new city employment and promotions that came from rigged job interviews. Instead of rewarding campaign workers with jobs and promotions, Alderman Burke is rewarding disability pay and benefits to injured city workers who are affiliated with his and the mayor’s political machine. Mayor Emanuel’s failure to veto the restrictive IG ordinance is creating a liability that could cost millions of dollars in another civil rights class action lawsuit.
The Hiring Plan listed the job titles and job classifications for employees who work in Ald. Burke’s COF. Furthermore, Burke failed to seek the Department of Human Resources (DHR) commissioner’s permission to change 22 COF employees’ job titles as the Hiring Plan required. Ald. Burke also failed to notify the IGO of changes to his employees’ job titles as he was required. When I became aware that 22 of Alderman Burke’s COF employees had one job title for the COF and one job title for the DHR , I filed a second IGO complaint (See table Below).
Committee on Finance Employees who have a Human Resources Job Title Different from their COF Job Titles

NAME DHR Job Title COF JobTitle
Maria Estrada — Legislative Aide — Adjuster
Janet Galvin Legislative Aide Director of Workers Comp
Mao Hong Legislative Aide Systems Administrator
Linda Jagminas Legislative Aide Director of Claims and Rebates
Mary Kate Manion Legislative Aide Secretary of Committee on Finance
Alicia Martinez Clerk of the City Council Adjuster
William Marutzky Legislative Aide Adjuster
Kathleen McNamara Legislative Aide SC Adjuster
Arturo Medina Legislative Aide Adjuster
Andrea Miceli Legislative Aide Secretary of Committee on Finance
Laura Montoya Manager of Information Systems Director of Policy
Michelle Murphy Director of Workers Compensation Assistant Chief Administration Officer
Stephen Niketopoulos Legislative Aide SC Adjuster
Ellen O’Gara Legislative Aide Adjuster
Megan Panik Legislative Aide Adjuster
Kyra Robinson Legislative Aide Adjuster
Moni Rohde Legislative Aide Systems Administrator
Monica Somerville Legislative Research Analyst Executive Director of Claims
Lisa Soto Legislative Aide Adjuster
Marita Thomas Legislative Aide Adjuster
Sherry Williams Legislative Aide SC Adjuster
Ethel Nancy Legislative Aide Adjuster

Ald. Ed Burke also created eight (8) new job classifications for his COF employees (See table below). The job classifications Burke created were not in the budget, nor were these jobs listed in the Hiring Plan. Burke creating job classifications on his own accord violates the Hiring Plan that Mayor Emanuel and the city agreed to follow in federal court. Unfortunately, Mayor Emanuel’s failure to veto the IGO ordinance prevents the IGO from investigating 22 of Burke’s employees using of two job titles and Burke’s creation of eight new job classifications in violation of the Hiring Plan.

Committee on Finance Job Classifications Created by Chairman Alderman Edward Burke

Ald. Burke ordering his employees to use two separate job titles is prima facia evidence of wrongdoing. Burke is purposely being deceitful and duplicitous because he wants to retain as many of his COF jobs for his own personal and political gain. On the one hand, the COF’s proper use of his employees job titles with the DHR keeps Ald. Burke and the COF in good stead with the DHR. On the other hand, COF employee’s use of unofficial job titles in the performance of their work make it appear that members of the Ald Burke’s staff are something other than the patronage employees that they really are. The COF’s abuse of job titles makes it seem COF employees are making independent and fair decisions based on fact, but the sad truth is the COF often decides Workers Comp cases based on political affiliation to Ald. Burke. We will never know the extent of Burke and the COF’s wrongdoing until Mayor Emanuel and the aldermen reinstate the IGO’s investigative power or the Justice Department investigates Burke’s committee for a third time.
Endnote
Please note that I only said Mayor Rahm Emanuel lied in federal court. Judge Schenkier did not have any of the witnesses who testified on June 16, 2014 swear to tell the truth, including Emanuel, myself, and everybody else who spoke at the hearing. Because he did not swear to tell the truth before he addressed the court, I deem Mayor Emanuel a liar, but not a perjurer.

Laborers’ Local 1092 warns members about Retaliation at Chicago Department of Water Management

Local 1092 Warning.

Today I called The Chicago Department of Water Management offices to find out about the memo that many City of Chicago Department of Water Management Laborers are upset about. My call was forwarded to Gary Litherland, the DOWM spokesman. Gary knew nothing about this and did not get back to Chicago Clout for a comment. Many City employees are getting time off for not wearing proper gear. Many city workers get hurt thanks to a foolish lack of common sense safety rules. Chicago is broke and Alderman Burke has stopped paying injured City Workers because he is an idiot. Rahm left him to shake down venders for political contributions.

Many City DOWM employees feel D.C. Hightower is acting mighty uppity since Paul Hansen got removed for racist emails. One employee said, “Give a [email protected]$$#$” some power and they act the fool”. I want all DOWM Management employees to know, wear your safety gear, and if they order you to work in a ditch with no shoring, call 911. You need shoring and all safety gear to live a decent life when you get old. Work safe, no exceptions. Chicago Clout is still waiting for the Konrad Tucharski Safety records. Do not allow Konrad to die in vain. Work safe. Work smart.

If you are verbally assaulted by any City of Chicago employee, call 911. Make a record of the actions. Do not tolerate any negative behavior against you. Take pictures. I never had a bad experience from Dwyane Hightower, he always acted in a professional manner toward me. I though he was very tolerant under the circumstances of blatant racism and outrageous behavior by Barrett Murphy and William “putz” Bresnahan. Most laborers are lucky to have a Union that cares about the working man, just imagine if you had a windbag like Mike Tierney from Plumbers Local 130 moping around. Count your blessings Local 1092, wear your gear and work as if your life depends on it, it might.