Sharon Fairley was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pick to head the Independent Police Review Authority. Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

Editor’s note: 

On January 11, just shy of three weeks after we first ran this story, John Rogers Jr. returned The Reader‘s calls for comment. He said that he and Fairley have been divorced since February 2015 and separated since 2008. This story has been corrected accordingly. 

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The new head of the city agency responsible for investigating police shootings and claims of misconduct might have difficulty being truly independent given her ex-husband’s financial connections to the city, county, and state.

Sharon Fairley, Rahm Emanuel’s choice to head the Independent Police Review Authority, was married to John Rogers Jr., CEO of Ariel Investments LLC, from 2002 until last year. Ariel manages hundreds of millions of dollars worth of city and state pension funds, and is a major shareholder in a second company, JLL, that has received substantive city construction contracts. Rogers and his colleagues are also major donors to the campaigns of various city, county, and state officials, including the mayor’s.

Ariel manages nearly $140 million of Chicago teachers’ pension funds, according to an April evaluation report, and in 2013 managed $54 million of Chicago Transit Authority pension funds. Ariel also manages millions of dollars of investments on behalf of various state entities, including the Illinois State Board of Investments (ISBI), which controls the retirement systems of many state employees and judges, and all members of the Illinois General Assembly.

Ariel is also among the top ten shareholders in commercial real estate behemoth JLL (formerly Jones Lang LaSalle). JLL was one of the beneficiaries of $55 million in tax increment financing funds for the construction of a $400 million hotel near McCormick Place. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority awarded JLL a $7.9 million contract to oversee the project.

With more than $160 million wrapped up in JLL, Ariel owns nearly 3 percent of the company.

Rogers has served in various capacities with Ariel since its founding in the 1980s. He was married to Fairley from 2002 until February 2015, although the current state of their divorce has previously been hidden from public view; divorce paperwork was sealed by a judge, who barred access to even the date of the filing. (This isn’t abnormal; a 2013 Chicago Tribune investigation found wealthy, politically connected couples had succeeded in getting judges to seal divorce paperwork nearly 100 times since 2000.)

John Rogers Jr.Credit: Ariel Investments

Most recently, Fairley worked under Chicago inspector general Joe Ferguson in the hiring-oversight section, according to her faculty page at the University of Chicago, where she is listed as a law lecturer. Prior to that Fairley was a prosecutor at the Illinois attorney general’s office, before moving on to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.

Fairley has largely stayed out of the public eye in her work as a state and federal prosecutor, but Rogers and his Ariel colleagues have been mainstays in city politics.

Rogers and Ariel president Mellody Hobson have donated more than $700,000 combined to myriad political campaigns and causes since 1999, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Rogers has also donated $5,400 to Kim Foxx’s bid to unseat Anita Alvarez as Cook County state’s attorney. Alvarez has been widely criticized for numerous perceived issues during her tenure, most recently for failing to bring charges quickly against the police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Rogers also gave at least $129,000 to former mayor Richard M. Daley and at least $38,000 for former governor Rod Blagojevich. Rogers backed Emanuel’s 2011 opponent Carol Moseley Braun with at least $100,000 in contributions, according to state records.

Hobson gave $31,150 to Emanuel’s campaign in 2010 and 2011.

Hobson is also part of a Chicago power couple that has benefited from its relationship with the city—she has been married to billionaire filmmaker and Star Wars creator George Lucas since 2013. Lucas was recently granted a 99-year lease on a sought-after plot of lakefront property on which he hopes to build his Museum of Narrative Art.

The lease will cost Lucas just $10.

Fairley has given approximately $5,000 in local campaign contributions and last did so in 2006.

In 2010, the year Emanuel first campaigned for office, Ariel Investments managed $108 million on behalf of the teachers’ pension fund. That amount has fluctuated over the years, but this year grew to $139 million, according to the April report.

Ariel’s standard management fee is approximately one-half of 1 percent for accounts in excess of $20 million, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. While that fee is negotiable, the company’s management of the $139 million for the teachers’ pension fund earned Ariel roughly $695,000 in 2015.

In addition to its dealings with the city, last year Ariel brought in an estimated $545,070 for managing investments on behalf of the ISBI, according to contract information listed on the agency’s website.

Taken together, Rogers’s myriad campaign contributions, his company’s contracts for handling some city and state pension funds, as well as his vested interests in JLL could pose a challenge for Fairley as she steps into a leadership role at an agency badly in need of reform.

Emanuel did not mention Fairley’s or Rogers’s financial connections to the city or state when the mayor introduced her at a December 7 press conference. Instead, Emanuel praised Fairley, promising more transparency and independence from IPRA.

Fairley made a similar vow.

“I promise you I bring no agenda other than the pursuit of integrity and transparency in the work that IPRA does,” Fairley said the day of her appointment.

The mayor also ensured reporters and the city that his pick would prompt a new era of police accountability and independence for an agency that, despite its name, has found none of the 208 police shootings from the last two years to be unjustified.

The promise came at the tail end of a tumultuous two weeks that saw the release of the Laquan McDonald video; the resignations of police superintendent Garry McCarthy, chief of detectives Dean Anderson, and former IPRA head Scott Ando; and the announcement of a federal probe of the Chicago Police Department.

Fairley’s appointment has at least one prominent police-accountability advocate scratching his head.

“It’s a mystery to me,” former IPRA investigator Lorenzo Davis said of Emanuel’s choice of Fairley in an interview. “I would think he would have appointed an interim person while they found somebody from the outside. That’s what they allegedly did with Ando, and they picked him even though he was from inside the system as well.”

Davis was an investigative supervisor at IPRA for almost seven years before he was fired in July. Davis says his termination was an act of retaliation on the part of Ando, the former IPRA head who was replaced by Fairley last week. Davis claims he found three unjustified fatal police shootings during his tenure at IPRA. But when he was asked to reverse those findings and refused, Davis alleges, Ando fired him.

Since his firing, Davis has publicly called out Ando for policies he claims are skewed in favor of police. Davis has also brought his allegations to court: he is suing the city for wrongful termination.

Not everyone is critical of Fairley’s appointment. Paul Green, a professor at Roosevelt University and longtime Chicago political observer, says Fairley’s resume indicates she’s fit to head IPRA.

“On paper she’s about the best candidate you could hope to get,” Green said in an interview. “The bottom line is this: it makes no difference who they picked. There isn’t anybody out there they could have picked who would have satisfied all the people who are screaming for heads to roll.”

IPRA spokesman Larry Merritt did not respond to a request for comment on Fairley’s possible conflicts of interests. An IPRA representative also told the Reader that Fairley has instructed employees not to release her official IPRA e-mail address.

Rogers did not respond to a request for comment before publication. On January 11, just shy of three weeks after we first ran this story, John Rogers Jr. returned The Reader‘s calls for comment. He said that he and Fairley have been divorced since February 2015 and separated since 2008. This story has been corrected accordingly. 

Asked for comment, the mayor’s press office instead directed the Reader to a press release, which stated that Fairley’s “experience and independence . . . will ensure that when an officer breaks the rules, they will be held accountable.”

Still, Davis argues that Emanuel’s appointment of Fairley was a move born of machine gamesmanship.

“It’s all political,” Davis said.