By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

>The following editorial by BGA President & CEO Andy Shaw appeared in the May 13 Chicago Tribune—read it here.

Mayor Richard Daley’s request for a security detail after he leaves office creates a golden opportunity for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to demonstrate his approach to solving a problem that has fiscal, civic and public safety components.

Throw in the political and human dimensions for good measure and what you have is a microcosm of virtually every daunting challenge Emanuel will face in the coming months.

The security issue goes beyond Daley. Other recipients include the incoming mayor, the city clerk and treasurer; Ald. Ed Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee; and anyone else on an “as needed” basis.

Questions that have to be answered include:

  • Who needs a bodyguard detail?
  • What are the criteria for eligibility?
  • What’s the review process?
  • How large should the protection teams be?
  • Part-time or around-the-clock coverage?
  • Wherever the official travels or just in Chicago?
  • For a set period of time or indefinitely?

On the financial side, should security recipients pay a portion of the cost? Daley, for instance, will be getting an annual pension of $184,000 and has more than a million dollars in a political fund at his disposal. Burke has several million in various campaign accounts.

What’s their obligation for paying for security? And should these details be police officers or private guards?

These questions are timely and important as Emanuel wrestles with a city budget that’s more than half a billion dollars in the red and a police department that’s arguably undermanned by at least 1,000 officers.

One obvious solution is to put the hot potato in the hands of the Chicago Police Department, but many of the top cops owe or will owe their positions to Emanuel or Daley, which could undermine objectivity.

Another hurdle that has to be crossed is that the Police Department doesn’t seem to believe the discussion of police security for politicians should be before an informed public. It has refused the Better Government Association’s Freedom of Information Act requests for data on Burke’s security detail, and the department is fighting the BGA in court.

For the record, the BGA is not trying to jeopardize anyone’s safety. We’re only asking for annual cost and manpower information, not the specifics of day-to-day security for any individual.

One newspaper reported that Daley’s mayoral detail costs taxpayers $2 million a year, and his scaled-down post-retirement contingent would have a $400,000 price tag. Apparently, someone has access to the information.

So here’s an idea: Let the city’s independent inspector general, Joseph Ferguson, look at this issue. In the spirit of cooperation he could join forces with his Cook County and state counterparts for a multiple assessment.

Ferguson’s staff can research best practices, work with local and federal law enforcement to assess threat levels and put his finding in the context of a city facing a massive budget deficit and a police manpower crisis.

The benefit of an independent inspector general looking at this issue is just that — independence from political interference and insulation from public backlash.

Again, the BGA is not expecting Ferguson to disclose anything that would adversely impact existing security concerns. The goal should be to ensure that scarce resources be administered objectively, in conformance with best practices and at the lowest cost to taxpayers.

A final thought: The BGA would not be adverse to a committee with representatives from the police department, Secret Service, the inspector general’s office, academia and a civic watchdog group to study whether there should be police details for current and former politicians.

But one thing is certain, Mayor-elect Emanuel should resolve the controversy as quickly as possible.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below…