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Rahm Emanuel: Inspector general doesn’t need more power

Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times library

Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times library

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he considers Chicago’s inspector general a “key partner in ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse,” but Joe Ferguson doesn’t need more power than his state and federal counterparts.

Three weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court issued a ruling that could tie Ferguson’s hands and insulate Emanuel and his staff from investigation, the mayor stood behind the decision and made it clear he has no intention of introducing a legislative remedy.

The mayor noted that the state’s highest court had 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.

What Emanuel failed to mention is that, when the corporation counsel chooses not to enforce those IG subpoenas or has a conflict of interest, the inspector general’s only recourse is to appeal to the mayor — even when the IG’s 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.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion, which was unanimous, speaks for itself. Two, I see the IG —which is why we’ve done certain things to strengthen the office — as a key partner in ferreting out waste fraud and abuse. And three, the IG in the city of Chicago, like the federal and state, has similar powers,” the mayor said.

“The opinion of the court is clear. We’ve given them the budget type of things that they need, the independence they need on hiring and they have the same powers [as] the federal [and] state IGs.”

Ferguson, whose terms expires this fall, could not be reached for comment on the mayor’s remarks. His spokesman Jon Davey had no immediate comment.

After the ruling, the IG pointedly noted that Emanuel campaigned on a promise to implement “structural reforms” that respect the power, authority and independence of the inspector general’s office.

He called on the mayor to deliver on that promise by proposing and delivering City Council votes for an ordinance that would guarantee the inspector general’s office: “no less than 0.1 percent” of the city budget and full discretion over that money; unrestricted access to all city documents and records and the power to enforce its own subpoenas.

“Reforms can only come about in the form of action by the City Council,” Ferguson wrote then.

“In the meantime, Chicago residents and taxpayers need to know this office’s jurisdictional limitations and what that can mean for our operations, be they investigations, audits or oversight of the city’s employment practices governed by Shakman accords. They deserve better.”

The bitter defeat for Ferguson followed an unprecedented 2009 lawsuit filed by the inspector general’s office demanding that then-Corporation Counsel Mara Georges turn over documents the inspector general considered vital to the investigation of how former top mayoral aide Charles Bowen was awarded a $100,000 sole-source contract with the Chicago Police Department “in apparent violation of the City’s ethics and contracting rules.”

Ferguson took office after the lawsuit had already been filed. But he now must live with the consequences.

“The public and City Council should now know that the IGO has access only to the records and materials the mayor and his corporation counsel wishes to make available when they decide to make them available,” he said in a prepared statement on the day the ruling was issued.

Ferguson argued then that he’s not seeking “special authority or treatment.” He simply wants “baseline standards and authority” that’s commonplace across the federal government.

“An inspector general must have complete access to documents and records under its jurisdiction and the power to enforce its own subpoenas. But not in Chicago,” the inspector general said.

Better Government Association President Andy Shaw said Emanuel’s stand on the IG’s powers is “disappointing, but not surprising” considering the mayor’s track record during his first two years in office.

“Candidate Emanuel made a lot of promises Mayor Emanuel hasn’t kept vis-a-vis an expanded role for the Inspector General in watchdogging city government and other city agencies,” Shaw wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“This isn’t about which IG has the most power. It’s about the mayor’s willingness to support an IG’s ability to investigate him or his office with the same tools the IG uses to scrutinize every other city employe or office. Emanuel clearly opposes that, and it belies his campaign pledges.”

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