Chicago Sun-Times
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Rahm determined to save $15 million from workers comp under fed scrutiny

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he's determined to save $15 million by eliminating "waste and fraud" in Chicago's $115 million-a-year worker's compensation program now the subject of a federal investigation.

"My focus is on making sure we get the savings that we sought and are seeking every day. Fifteen million dollars in that system can be saved and returned to the taxpayers," the mayor said.

"No area is walled off from reform and change. The taxpayers can no longer afford it....At $115 million-a-year, it needs to be reformed. It needs to be changed and we need to get savings out of it for our taxpayers."

Emanuel was asked whether he welcomes the federal investigation if that's what it takes to eliminate waste and fraud.

"What I welcome is reform....I'm not gonna sit here while that's going on" [and say he welcomes it]. I can't do that," he said.

"Fifteen million dollars in savings and elimination of waste and fraud in the system. That's my No. 1 goal. And I don't need an oversight to do that. I want to make sure it gets executed."

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed six years' worth of records pertaining to the worker's comp program for civilian city employees--six years after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation of alleged abuses triggered a similar federal investigation that went nowhere.

The Aug. 3 subpoena was issued to the City Council's Finance Committee, chaired by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who has sole authority to process and settle workers comp claims and handpick attorneys when claims are challenged.

The federal subpoena was dropped on the City Council's most powerful alderman eight days after Inspector General Joe Ferguson, a former federal prosecutor, went public about Burke's decision to deny Ferguson access to employee databases related to the worker's comp program for civilian employees.

Burke's staff has refused to release that information on grounds that: duty disability is governed by state law, not city ordinance; that Ferguson's investigative powers are limited to misconduct and that the Finance Committee staffers who administer the worker's comp program fall under the jurisdiction of the City Council's own inspector general.

After stonewalling Ferguson, Burke vowed earlier this week to turn the records over to the City Council's handpicked inspector general, who claims that he alone has jurisdiction over the matter, but has no investigators to assist him in the audit.

In 2006, the Sun-Times reported that one of every five patronage workers on the "clout list" kept by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley's subsequently convicted former patronage chief filed at least one workers compensation claim against the city.

That incredibly high injury rate--which far exceeds any occupation tracked by the U.S. Labor Department--cost taxpayers more than $38 million.

At the time, Daley's chief-of-staff pointed the finger of blame directly at Burke.

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