During one of many lulls during the full City Council meeting last week, 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore was in the council lounge giving an interview to TV reporters about a new proposal to expand the powers of the inspector general’s office. His colleague Helen Shiller walked by looking skeptical.
“I think it’s a stunt,” she said of the proposal. “It’s a political move.”
For years Shiller was Mayor Daley’s chief council opponent, often casting the only vote against his budgets, criticizing waste, and demanding more funding for social services and development in depressed wards.
A few years ago, though, Shiller made peace with the mayor and got his support for her Wilson Yard project. Ever since she’s been a pretty consistent aye vote.
Shiller herself says she’s just more thoughtful about getting things done, and as a result more successful. It’s true that she’s offered fresh ideas and pushed the administration to move more aggressively on issues like recycling, green job creation, and minority contracting—without holding press conferences.
It’s also true that she’s now at least as likely to speak out against the proposals of the “reform” bloc of the council as anything that comes from the mayor’s office.
“The purpose of an inspector general, I think, in our world, is as a vehicle to address political corruption,” she said in an interview. “I don’t think you do that by making one person all-powerful.”
Unlike Moore and even Daley ally Pat O’Connor, who’s introduced another inspector general ordinance, Shiller thinks it’s a bad idea to give the office the authority to investigate aldermen who, unlike city department heads or laborers, have to face voters every four years.
Shiller also believes that while the office could do more, it’s already having an impact on fighting fraud and reducing waste. She pointed to its report last year on loafing in the Department of Streets and Sanitation.
“That stuff was great, and it’s brought about changes in the department,” she said. “The inspector general’s office is already able to do their work—so what are we trying to fix? All we’re doing here is giving them more power. I don’t think it’s a well-thought-out plan.”
The proposal by Moore and his allies would also boost the inspector general’s annual budget by as much as 50 percent. “If there are specific funding requests from the office, we should hear them, but at budget time they got everything they asked for,” Shiller said. “It’s a little ironic that some of the same people doing this [proposal] joined me about five years ago when we called for eliminating the office because we thought it was such a joke.”
Shiller is no bigger fan of an idea floated by some aldermen to create an independent budget office, which would offer a second opinion on the administration’s financial projections. If aldermen want more scrutiny of the mayor’s budget proposals, she said, they should provide it themselves: “There are 50 of us,” she said. “One of our biggest jobs is voting on the budget, and I happen to think we should read it first.”