By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday the replacement of the city's entire ethics board with seven new members, saying the new board will have the professionalism to do the job in a city notorious for corruption.
"These nominees will ensure that everyone in public office understands exactly where they stand and who they serve," said Emanuel in a statement.
Since becoming mayor last year, Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, has signed six orders strengthening city ethics rules and amending the ethics ordinance to strengthen the ban against gifts and increase penalties for violations.
Chicago has long been notorious for public corruption. The city where gangster Al Capone once kept the mayor on his payroll ranked first in public corruption convictions over the past three decades, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Justice Statistics conducted earlier this year.
The new board will be chaired by Stephen Beard, general counsel of Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm. Other members include former Illinois Appellate Judge Michael Gallagher; former Cook County Circuit Court Judge Julia Nowicki, who also has served as patronage monitor for Cook County; and pastor and author Mary Trout Carr.
"I think they have the kind of background and professionalism that had been absent," Emanuel said at a news conference at City Hall Wednesday. He said he was giving the board a "fresh start."
The board is charged with administering and enforcing the city's ethics and campaign financing ordinances, which regulate the conduct of city employees, city vendors, lobbyists, appointed officials and elected officials like aldermen. It has had a reputation over the years for being toothless.
Emily Miller, policy and government affairs coordinator at the Better Government Association, said putting the ethics board in the spotlight is "definitely a good thing," but it remains to be seen how much authority it will have.
The City Council will vote on the mayor's nominees for the new ethics board at the council's next meeting on October 31, according to the mayor's office.
Cynthia Canary, chair of the mayor's ethics task force, said that the change in the board and the introduction of new ethics laws represent a "new attitude and commitment" toward ethics in Chicago.
"The nominees for the new board have to put a face on ethics -- to let us in the public know the issues that arise and how they are resolved," said Canary.
Also on Wednesday, the Chicago City Council approved extension of a whistleblower statute, which protects people from retaliation if they disclose misuse of city funds or authority.
(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Osterman)