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Matt Farmer

Matt Farmer

Posted: September 8, 2009 02:42 PM

Why 'Trust Us' Doesn't Cut it for the Olympics

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Early this week, Chicago's City Council will decide just how much the city's taxpayers need to know about the 2016 Olympic Games. Specifically, the Council will decide what information Lori Healey (Mayor Daley's former chief of staff) and the rest of her colleagues on Chicago's Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games will be required to provide taxpayers, should Chicago be selected to host the 2016 Summer Games. The answer will almost certainly be "not enough." And one reason we'll be denied that information is because nobody in the Council bothered to demand it.

Two proposed ordinances are now on the table, and neither packs much punch. The first, drafted by the Daley administration, would place Daley allies Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) on the OCOG as the Council's representatives -- and the taxpayers' watchdogs. Don't expect a lot of tough questions from that duo. The second ordinance, put forth by Ald. Manny Flores (1st), seeks a bit more transparency, empowering the city's inspector general to audit and monitor the OCOG's finances for waste and fraud. The Flores proposal also provides financial disclosure requirements for certain OCOG employees and adds some independent oversight to the process.

Neither proposed ordinance seems to offer taxpayers any recourse should the OCOG stonewall the Council. (Would Alderman Burke, for example, seek to hold the Mayor's former chief of staff in "contempt of Council"?) Moreover, neither offers journalists any real ability to obtain documents from OCOG -- which, its bosses frequently remind us, is a private organization.

In a few days, the Council will likely vote upon these proposed ordinances; as usual, smart money is betting with the mayor. The outcome of the vote will likely be a one-day story -- until years from now, when the inevitable Olympic scandal occurs and aldermen do their part by feigning after-the-fact outrage and demanding -- politely, mind you -- investigations.

So here's a 10-point question for control of the board: Why wasn't a single alderman willing to propose an ordinance with real teeth -- one that requires the OCOG to comply with information requests in a manner consistent with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

As it stands, the mayor and the Chicago 2016 folks are asking taxpayers to take a great leap of faith with this Olympic venture. And while blind faith will still cut it at Holy Name Cathedral, it no longer flies when it comes to the administration that gave us the hired truck scandal, the parking meter debacle, the middle-of-the-night destruction of Meigs Field, decades of patronage hiring, and an assortment of insider federal corruption convictions.

Do all 50 aldermen so fear the Mayor that none was willing to cite this history of corruption as the reason taxpayers deserve heightened transparency from the Mayor's former chief of staff and her 2016 colleagues?

Chicago political history demonstrates that it's always easier to make no waves. Why, after all, would an alderman propose an ordinance that has no chance of passing the Council and would only serve to land him on the mayor's list of "troublemakers"?

Here's the answer: The alderman should have done it because the public needs to know that someone at City Hall has the public's back. That alderman likely would have lost a battle, but having fought a real fight on behalf of Chicago's taxpayers, he would have demonstrated the type of leadership the Council has lacked for many years.