The Chicago Board of Ethics voted unanimously on Monday to ask both the Chicago inspector general and the inspector general of Chicago public schools to investigate whether Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign violated the city government’s ethics ordinance.
The call comes after the Lightfoot campaign sent emails to CPS teachers and City Colleges of Chicago faculty looking for student volunteers to help win re-election in exchange for credit. The discussion leading to the vote of members of the Chicago Board of Ethics took place behind closed doors, and the board action did not nominate Lightfoot, in line with board rules.
All board members were nominated by Lightfoot and confirmed by the Chicago City Council.
Lightfoot told reporters on Jan. 12 that the emails, first reported by WTTW News on Jan. 11, were a “well-meaning” “mistake” approved by his “younger” deputy campaign manager, a staffer Lightfoot refused to fire.
Eight candidates are running to deny Lightfoot a second term as mayor of Chicago. Advance voting begins Thursday downtownand Election Day is February 28. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two voters will be held on April 4.
However, Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon warned all candidates for city office to “immediately and thoroughly clean up their email lists and remove any government email addresses,” Conlon said.
“The board also advises applicants, and those associated with such applicants, that emails and other forms of solicitation may be considered coercive if directed at city employees and, or those employed by sister city agencies,” it said. stated Conlon.
A spokesperson for the Lightfoot campaign could not be reached immediately for comment.
CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher announced Jan. 12 that his office “has opened an investigation into this matter and we are currently collecting information to determine what, if any, policies were violated.”
A spokeswoman for Inspector General Deborah Witzburg told WTTW News Jan. 12 that her office is “collecting information” on emails and is in contact with the Inspector General of Chicago Public Schools.
After these investigations are completed, the board could find probable cause why Lightfoot’s campaign violated the ordinance, a determination that could trigger fines of up to $20,000 for each violation. The Lightfoot campaign did not say how many inappropriate emails were sent.
But that determination couldn’t happen until the board meeting scheduled for March because of city ordinance changes, requested by Lightfoot, to the way the Ethics Board investigates elected officials suspected of violating the law.
While the council refers complaints requiring investigation to the city inspector general, it can take action in cases that do not require a “factual investigation” and where an ethics violation is clear and based on publicly available records. Board rules require that the name of the elected official be kept confidential throughout the process.
The revised ordinance requires the board to notify the elected official in writing at least 10 days before the Ethics Board can find a probable cause of violation of the law, giving them a chance to refute the allegation and avoid public embarrassment.
Lightfoot requested those changes before approving the package, created by the former Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward). She defended them as a way to ensure that those who have found themselves targeted by the Chicago Board of Ethics ensure “due process” for those facing penalties.
Lightfoot said he asked for the changes because he wanted “to make sure the board is seen with legitimacy, not as judge, jury and executioner before they even get the other facts from the person who is the target of the complaint.”
Since Lightfoot took office in 2019 after campaigning on a platform that promised to root out corruption at City Hall and strengthen the city’s ethics regulations, the Ethics Board has found probable cause why four city council allies of Lightfoot violated the city’s ethics ordinance.
While Ald. Nicolas Married (38th District) was not fined, charged and retired Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward), Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) and Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th Ward) was fined. Only Curtis, who is running for re-election, has paid the fine.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]