Certain city workers are required to disclose when they earn money outside their government jobs—but this year, 50 didn’t do so on time.

By Kim Bellware

Chicago Board of Ethics Executive Director Steve Berlin speaks at ChiHackNight June 4, 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of ChiHackNight)

Chicago Board of Ethics Executive Director Steve Berlin speaks at ChiHackNight June 4, 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of ChiHackNight)

The Chicago Board of Ethics has a message for the 50 city employees who hadn’t filed their 2019 financial disclosure forms by the June 1 deadline: You’ve violated ethics laws.

The delinquents—including Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), several aldermanic staffers, police officers and highly paid Cultural Affairs employees—are among 3,700 city workers required to report any outside income, or face a fine of $250 a day. (As of today, Brookins and several other employees filed their forms, bringing the number down to 42—see the list of remaining workers below.)

Rich Superfine, a longtime lawyer with the Chicago Board of Ethics, said the board takes timely disclosures seriously, as they’re the key way the public and other government officials can see whether a city employee is misusing their public role for personal benefit.

“We’re a good-sized city, and a good-sized public, and people inside and outside of government want to see these [financial disclosure] forms,” Superfine said.

As of July 3, the board tweeted that 44 employees were still delinquent in their filing, meaning the city’s Law Department could stand to collect more than $350,000 in outstanding fines. But Superfine says the employees are given a chance to explain why they were late to filing—perhaps due to a medical emergency or if they no longer meet the filing criteria because of a job change.

Why It Matters

City employees must file a financial disclosure form each year if they meet certain criteria, which includes being in an elected or supervisory role, a non-clerical role in the mayor’s office or in charge of licensing and permitting. 

From slinging cinnamon buns to political consulting, one-fifth of Chicago’s City Council members and scores of other city officials have side hustles in addition to their city jobs. Longtime Ald. Ed Burke (14th) is a prime example of how outside financial ties can influence city business. Burke, who is a partner at a property tax law firm, is accused in a federal indictment of extorting a Burger King by withholding remodeling permits unless the franchise agreed to do business with his firm. Burke is also documented as helping to pass zoning changes for companies that contracted his firm for business. In 2011, 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, who owns Ann Sather's restaurant in Wrigleyville, raised questions of whether he should recuse himself from voting on and shaping laws restricting food trucks—which could ostensibly compete with brick-and-mortar restaurants like his. Tunney later defended his decision not to recuse himself by saying the Board of Ethics cleared him of any conflicts of interest.

What you can do next

  • Curious about your alderman’s business ties? Or want to look up mayoral office employees or other city workers?  You can investigate Financial Interest Statements (FIS) going back to 2011 on the city’s website.

  • Attend the next Chicago Board of Ethics meeting on Friday, July 19 from 12 to 2 p.m. at 740 N. Sedgwick, Suite 500.

  • Check out the running list of city employees who still haven’t filed their disclosures.

Related

Ethics reform and fighting corruption were two of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s major campaign promises. She capped her first day in office this May by signing an executive order that would curb the practice known as aldermanic prerogative, which allowed aldermen to have the final say for permitting issues in their ward. Critics said it gave council members too much influence that could be leveraged for back-door campaign contributions, business deals and other kickbacks. Some aldermen, like Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), criticized curbing aldermanic power and said banning outside jobs and limiting campaign contributions would be a more effective way of ending corruption.