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Council Votes to Move Troubled Comp Program to Finance Department

Friday, January 25, 2019 | 528 | 0 | 73 min read

The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to give up control of the city's troubled, $100 million-a-year workers' compensation program.

Alderman Ed Burke

Alderman Ed Burke

The Council's Finance Committee, which for years had controlled the compensation program under the watch of Chairman Ed Burke, voted Tuesday to restructure the program under the Finance Department in the executive branch, and bring more accountability and transparency to it. 

On Wednesday, the full council agreed, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.
The change came about after Burke, the city's longest-serving alderman, stepped down as chair of the Finance Committee two weeks ago after he was charged with attempted extortion. 

Critics have said Burke turned the comp program into a political patronage instrument, giving benefits and jobs to supporters.

Also Tuesday, the mayor's office announced that the accounting firm Grant Thornton would audit the comp program.

Burke's federal charges may have little to do with workers' compensation: Prosecutors filed the charge against Burke Jan. 3, alleging that in 2017 he tried to use his position as alderman to pressure Burger King executives to hire his private law firm for the restaurant chain’s property tax work.  

But the investigation opened the door to major changes.

Chicago was said to be the only major U.S. city that allows a council member to run its workers' compensation program, which is normally considered an executive-branch function. Critics said the arrangement allowed Burke to block investigations and audits of the comp program. Now under the mayor's office, the program will be open to scrutiny from the city's inspector general.

Burke's influence over Chicago politics and government is legendary, local news reports have said. Now at age 75, he has served 50 years on the City Council. His wife is a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court. 

He remains free on $10,000 bond and is continuing to seek re-election in next month's council race, according to news reports.

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