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So much for Rahm the Reformer

Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times library

Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times library

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Updated: April 25, 2013 6:56AM

The Illinois Supreme Court handed a defeat to Chicago City Hall Inspector General Joe Ferguson this week. The decision casts in starkest terms a battle being waged between a mayor who defines himself as a reformer. And his IG.

The Supremes declared that, given the limits of the current law, Ferguson can investigate corruption all he wants but cannot compel the mayor or the city law department to turn over documents they choose not to.

Subpoena power doesn’t necessarily mean power at all.

So Ferguson has been flat out of luck as he probes certain kinds of patronage. Like, dating back to the Daley administration, the case of Charles Bowen, who was handed a no-bid contract for $100,000 a year. It allowed him to do exactly the same work as a “contractor” that he once did as a city employee. In violation, one might argue, of the 43-year-old Shakman decree prohibiting clouted hiring.

So the IG’s office, back to when David Hoffman ran it, took the unprecedented step of suing the city to turn over its files.

You’d think the new mayor, who speaks constantly of transparency, would have taken a different position than the old mayor. He didn’t.

If there is good news in this, it is that Rahm the Reformer has to grapple with the perception, if not the reality, that things may not have changed all that much.

Remember, Emanuel was the candidate in 2011 who won David Hoffman’s endorsement by pledging to extend the IG’s powers.

He didn’t.

Moreover, once elected, he created quasi-governmental bodies like the Infrastructure Trust that are, by law, beyond Ferguson’s reach. Hoffman, a forgiving soul apparently, joined the Infrastructure Trust board anyway.

Rahm. who can arm-twist the City Council into a pretzel when he wants to, somehow couldn’t persuade reform-averse aldermen recently to pass an expanded ethics ordinance. This, at the same time that he wants Steve Patton, head of his law department, to go into court to ask a judge to unshackle the city from the Shakman decree because the city has proven itself so, well, reform-oriented.

Patton argues forcefully that the city has instituted many meaningful changes in hiring, contracts and the general conduct of its business.

Let’s stipulate there has been some progress.

However, the optics of this increasingly pitched battle between the mayor and his IG is problematic for a lot of reasons. Chief among them is this number: $18 million.

Since 2005, that’s what taxpayers have been forced to shell out for the city’s failure to fully comply with Shakman’s court-ordered reforms.

The city argues Ferguson is asking for powers that no other IG on a local or federal level enjoys. Ferguson vehemently begs to differ.

Frankly, who cares?

What would be wrong with Chicago leading the way with the most independent inspector general legislation in the nation?

Pass an ordinance, people.

For once, make it a good one.

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