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Aldermen press Emanuel to keep promise on inspector general

Updated: May 29, 2013 7:02AM

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus moved Thursday to hold Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the campaign promises he made to strengthen and expand the inspector general’s powers and give the watchdog unfettered access to city documents.

Emanuel has made it clear he has no intention of introducing a legislative remedy to an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that could tie Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s hands and insulate Emanuel and his staff from investigation.

Ferguson has fired back by warning of “increased waste, fraud and misconduct” by city employees and contractors.

On Thursday, four members of the City Council’s now splintered Progressive Caucus — Bob Fioretti (2nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th) — stepped into the middle of that fight.

They unveiled a series of ordinances that would grant the inspector general’s office the ability to control its own personnel and “serve, enforce and defend” its own subpoenas; guarantee the inspector general “no less than 1 percent” of the city budget, and compel the city to cooperate with office’s audits, program reviews and hearings in addition to investigations.

Sawyer noted that candidate Rahm Emanuel made all of those promises — and more — in December 2010 at a joint news conference on ethics with Ferguson’s predecessor, David Hoffman.

The mayor even promised to extend the inspector general’s powers to include the City Council, the Emanuel-chaired Public Building Commission and the Chicago Park District. That hasn’t happened, either.

“What we’re really trying to do is assist the mayor in codifying this — making sure we can continue an open, honest and transparent government that he sought when he was running for mayor and that we continue to seek,” Sawyer said.

Waguespack said it’s one thing to “fail on your campaign promises.” It’s quite another to “hold it up this long.” That can only mean one thing, he said.

“There’s something going on they don’t want [the inspector general] to see. ... People getting contracts [who] shouldn’t be getting contracts through the executive branch. Forensic audits that should take place that people don’t want to have take place because it would ferret out more corruption, more mismanagement and more waste in city government,” he said.

Waguespack said he doesn’t know whether Emanuel is protecting Daley or protecting himself.

“All I’m trying to do is to make sure the IG [can] get that subpoena power so the taxpayers of this city can find out what was really going on,” he said.

Although only four aldermen appeared at Thursday’s City Hall news conference, Fioretti claimed overall City Council support “in the teens.” That’s still short of the 26 votes needed for passage.

But he expects to draw more support by building public pressure on an ethics issue that, he believes, aldermen can ill-afford to ignore in the wake of the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals and years of contract cronyism.

“If we’re gonna root out corruption in this city — if we’re gonna make a stand that it’s unacceptable at any level — then we have to give the inspector general the tools necessary here,” Fioretti said.

A top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous, accused the same four aldermen of “hiding underneath their desks” when Emanuel tried and failed to give the City Council’s handpicked inspector general the same power that Ferguson has.

Twice since the Supreme Court ruling, Emanuel has made it clear he has no intention of introducing a legislative remedy.

“The IG has independence on their budget, independence on their hiring, which is one of the things that’s been asked for years. ... The IG has the same power and capability that the state IG and the federal IG’s have,” he said last week.

Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ferguson does not have statutory authority to enforce his subpoenas of city documents. Instead, the IG has to rely on the corporation counsel to enforce its subpoenas.

When the corporation counsel chooses not to enforce those inspector general subpoenas or has a conflict of interest, the inspector general’s only recourse is to appeal to the mayor — even when the investigation either targets or involves the mayor’s office.

That literally means that, whenever the mayor’s office wants to stymie a high-level investigation, all it needs to do is put an attorney in the room. That way, the corporation counsel’s office can claim attorney-client privilege and refuse to comply with subpoenas issued by the inspector general.

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