The City of Chicago has for years missed a state-mandated deadline to publish its annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) because no one calls them on it, a researcher for a fiscal advocacy group said during a recent interview.
"One reason they keep blowing it is that they get away with it," Bill Bergman, director of research at the Institute for Truth in Accounting and a regular blogger on financial issues, told Chicago City Wire. "Our mainstream media doesn't do squat about it. Neither do our leading corporate citizens, or citizens generally, so maybe we deserve what we get."
The City of Chicago is required by state law to publish its CAFR within six months of the end of the fiscal year, the most recent of which passed in December, which means the CAFR for 2017 should have been posted to the city's website by June 30. To date, the most recent CAFR posted on the city's website is for 2016.
Bill Bergman, director of research at the Institute for Truth in Accounting
The missed deadline for posting the CAFR for 2017 isn't the first time the city has missed the state-mandated deadline. The city has regularly missed the deadline in recent years, only to later issue the report with a letter of transmittal dated "June 30," no matter when they publish the report.
The reasons behind all those missed deadlines can be difficult to pin down.
"Chicago is a very large and complex city," Bergman said. "New York City is too, however, and the Big Apple gets its report out in four months. Chicago’s deadline is six months, so how big it is can’t explain it."
The hold up for the 2017 CAFR may possibly be attributable to the underlying city police pension fund report that also, apparently, is not yet available. A source familiar with the police fund told Chicago City Wire before the July 4th holiday that the police pension fund report is still in the works.
"We are working on getting the financial statements and the CAFR issued," the source said. "It looks like those are not going to be available until probably early next week, and then probably will not be posted on our website until the following week given some people that are going to be out of the office. So I would say July 9th or 10th will probably be when everything will be posted on the website."
Whatever the reason for the missed deadline, breaking a state mandate doesn't speak well for Chicago.
"One thing it says about the city is reflected in what the city itself says about the city," Bergman said.
"Last year, the report was introduced with a cover letter by Mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed to 'Dear Chicagoan' that was dated June 30, the legal due date. It also had a 'letter of transmittal' addressed to 'The Honorable Rahm Emanuel, Members of the Chicago City Council, and Citizens of the City of Chicago' that was also dated June 30th. But the report wasn’t available until July 12."
The deadlines are missed but the reports have, so far, ultimately been released, so the city can say it isn't hiding anything, Bergman said.
"We have transparency," he said. "But the latest audited results we have are for a year that ended 549 days ago. It's like looking through a clean window to see the weather, but you only see what happened long ago, not what is happening now."
And that's an accountability issue, Bergman said.
"Accounting reports serve as critical tools, in theory, to secure the accountability of government officials to the people they represent," he said. "In practice, however, the integrity of our republic can be undermined by the same tools advertised to safeguard that integrity."