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Lightfoot pushes new oversight on aldermen, and will tackle zoning reform next

The mayor will restrict aldermanic money-making too

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot is determined to weed out old machine politics and bring reform to aldermen serving on City Council. On her first day in office, she limited the ability of aldermen to block development projects in their wards. Then, she called for 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke to resign after a racketeering indictment. And on Wednesday afternoon, she introduced an ethics reform package which puts further restrictions on elected officials.

In a statement, the mayor said the new rules are “designed to ensure that the City Council, just like every other function of our city government, operates under appropriate oversight, and that all decision-making is done with the highest level of transparency and in the best interest of taxpayers.”

The proposal includes:

  • No outside employment that poses a conflict of interest or liability. Currently, aldermen are allowed to have other jobs. Sometimes that can lead to scandal, like Burke allegedly shuffling business to his law firm. Former alderman Joe Moore (49th) introduced this idea back in January, and about half of council members supported it.
  • There will be more oversight by the Office of Inspector General which is a department that has the authority to investigate city employees and audit programs and operations. Aldermen will be held to the same scrutiny and the office will be able to audit council administrative procedures.
  • Fines for violations will increase. A low-level breach goes up from $500 to $1,000 and serious infractions jump from $2,000 to $3,000. The last alderman to get fined? No surprise it was Burke.
  • The definition of lobbyists will now include non-profits that lobby the city. They’ll be required to register and submit quarterly reports, but registration fees would be waived.

In addition to these reforms, Lightfoot said she will propose new legislation in the coming months that creates a more transparent zoning process for developers, building owners, and communities. Previously, she has proposed issuing clear best practices for building inspections and reviews. Also, changing the zoning code to help get affordable housing in Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) like coach houses and garden apartments. And, finding tools to gain control of vacant buildings stuck in legal limbo.

There’s a lot more detailed here in her transition report and its clear Lightfoot’s on her way to revamping a lot of city processes.