City administration in Chicago cuts up hundreds of credit cards


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Local government employees who once passed around 500 credit cards will now get by on just eight, under a crackdown that exceeded Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s expectations.

Two months ago, Emanuel reduced the number of credit cards to 30 after alleged abuses that ousted the chiefs of the CHA and Chicago Park District. The plan called for five credit cards to be issued to top executives of each of six agencies: the CTA, CHA, Park District, Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges and Public Building Commission. Monthly expenditures are posted on the Internet.

Now, the number of credit cards has been further reduced to “no more than eight” with three of the six agencies joining City Hall in going cold turkey.

In a news release touting the additional cuts, Emanuel noted that lax policies he inherited had “allowed city employees to treat a city credit card as their personal expense accounts.”

He added, “Our residents work hard every day and we work for them. Abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars absolutely will not be tolerated…”

Earlier this year, the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools questioned more than $800,000 in spending under former school board presidents Michael Scott and Rufus Williams. The spending — not all of which was charged to CPS credit cards — ranged from $3,000 to check the board’s offices for “eavesdropping devices” to $12,624 for holiday parties at a president’s home…

The credit card crackdown followed a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and WFLD-Channel 32 news that uncovered alleged credit card abuses at the CHA and the Park District…

The investigation…found CHA credit cards were used to buy thousands of dollars worth of flowers, cakes and holiday gifts for employees, a suite at the United Center and to pay fines stemming from red-light camera tickets.

Emanuel condemned the alleged abuses, called a halt to credit card spending and ordered a sweeping audit of agency policies. Jordan subsequently resigned.

Any number of pundits are always predicting the political demise of Rahm Emanuel. They’re always predicting Chicago-style cronyism that existed for decades under traditional machine governance. In truth, no party holds a patent for cronyism – as the recent Bush administration proved. Though the results are always the same. Taxpayers, ordinary citizens are left holding the bag.

Cynic that I am, I’m pleased to see Emanuel cleaning house – at least a little bit – in Chicago. I hope he keeps it up. Maybe, someday – he’ll bring his talents back to the White House and TCB.

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