Aldermen with the Progressive Reform Caucus are urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reappoint Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson now, asking that he not wait for the city's watchdog to reapply for the job.
Ferguson’s four-year term ends at the end of November. In late June, Emanuel said Ferguson would have to reapply for the job. The mayor said that decision stemmed from a recommendation from his Ethics Reform Commission.
A five-member panel picked by the mayor would be tasked with searching for other candidates to fill the position before Emanuel decides whom to choose.
“We don’t feel it is in the best interest of the taxpayers for the city to continue to stonewall the office of the Inspector General,” Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said. “We don’t feel it is in the best interest of the city to wait until November for his reappointment.”
When asked whether Ferguson even wanted another term, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) said he has spoken with the Inspector General, who has said he would reapply for the position.
Ald. John Arena (45th) added, “This isn’t a vacancy, this is a reappointment.”
“In my opinion this is an easy decision,” Arena said.
The progressive aldermen also called for a package of ordinances they introduced back in April meant to strengthen the Inspector General's Office to “see the light of day.” The six ordinances look to give the Inspector General’s Office full subpoena power, a guaranteed minimum funding amount and independence when it comes to hiring, among other provisions. Back in March, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Inspector General’s Office couldn’t enforce subpoenas unless it has the endorsement of the mayor or his Law Department. But that policy could change if the city’s law was tweaked, the state’s high court noted.
Emanuel said during his mayoral campaign that "any efforts to block the inspector general from getting information will not be tolerated."
“The progressive caucus has introduced a package of ordinances to do exactly what the mayor promised to do two years ago,” Fioretti noted.
The measures are sitting in the Rules Committee, which has a new chairman now that Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) has retired. Fioretti said members of the Progressive Reform Caucus would have a discussion with the new head of the Rules Committee, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), on the matter “as soon as possible.” The aldermen want the measures brought up after the city council comes back from recess in September.
“If it doesn’t move, we’ll move them ourselves,” Fioretti added.
There has been ongoing tension between Ferguson and the mayor for the past two years. More recently, Ferguson issued a report in July charging the Emanuel administration with obstructing his attempts to verify the cost savings of the new grid garbage collection system, which entered its final phase in April. Emanuel came back and said he supports the inspection, but only when the program is completely implemented.
Arena noted that this recent example highlights the need for a stronger Inspector General’s Office that can do the job “unfettered” when it comes to investigating whether programs, like the new garbage system, are effective and producing results that the administration has claimed.
When asked whether Emanuel is using the application process as a means to push Ferguson out and put someone more mayor-friendly in his place, the aldermen said they couldn’t speak to what the mayor was trying to do.
“We’re here to support an IG that has done an incredible job for the city of Chicago and has shown himself to be fair, and impartial, and diligent in his work,” Arena said. “At this point, why drag our feet on this? We’ve got a good public official doing a good job. Let’s see him reappointed and move on.”
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) spoke to the clash between Emanuel and Ferguson by saying that in any bureaucracy or government agency there usually is, and should be, a “healthy tension” between the Inspector General and the administration.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) added that the city needs an Inspector General who is consistently "raising the bar" when it comes to tackling more fraud, waste and corruption in city government.
“The inspector general has done that, and I think the taxpayers out there all see what’s happening, they know that we need a strong Inspector General,” Waguespack said. “We’re looking at an $8 billion [city] budget. You can’t look over that budget by yourself.”
Waguespack added that Ferguson’s audits have been “fair” and “straightforward.” He pointed to the Inspector General’s May audit of the city’s red-light camera program, in which Ferguson questioned the administration’s safety claims as well as the program’s costs. Following the audit, Waguespack said he and the other caucus members received an outpouring of emails and phone calls from constituents praising the Inspector General's work.
If the mayor decides to further delay Ferguson’s reappointment, or not select him at all, “that shows the type of commitment [Emanuel] has to rooting out the waste, the inefficiencies and all the things that are happening in our government,” Waguespack added.
“We want to see a mayor in this city who is committed, who has the strength to say that, ‘I need an Inspect General in my government to handle these types of issues; to root out the waste and corruption,’” he stressed. “A mayor committed to doing that in this day in age would immediately move forward on reappointing.”