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Emanuel defends decision to have IG reapply for job

Chicago Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times files

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 11, 2013 6:35AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday defended his decision to require Inspector General Joe Ferguson to reapply for the $161,856-a-year-job he has held for the last four years after going toe-to-toe with him for the last two.

Emanuel said his handpicked Ethics Reform Commission recommended a process for selecting the next inspector general and he intends to follow it.

To do otherwise, the mayor said, would be to denigrate the work of two of the most prominent reformers in the history of Illinois politics.

“One of the recommendations the late Dawn Clark Netsch and Cindi Canary recommended was setting up a blue-ribbon commission to select the next IG. It was debated with a series of other reforms and adopted,” the mayor said.

“So, I’m gonna follow that process that was recommended by the late Dawn Clark Netsch, Cindi Canary and the other members of the commission. And all of those other reforms are also on the books because they’re the right type of changes for the future.”

Ferguson supporters consider it an insult to ask an inspector general whom, they believe, has been the aggressive watchdog Chicago sorely needs to reapply for the job he holds.

They point to the section of the new ethics ordinance that states that the inspector general’s four-year term “may be renewed at the discretion of the mayor” with City Council approval.

Emanuel doesn’t see it that way.

“The insult would be to the public if we didn’t have a process for going forward. That’s where the insult exists,” he said.

“And that’s why Cindi Canary, the late Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch, one of the leaders of political reform, had made this recommendation and I’m proud the City Counci. . .adopted the change.”

Canary could not be reached for comment.

While referring to Canary and Netsch, Emanuel made no mention of his frosty relationship with Ferguson.

It stems from Emanuel’s efforts to block Ferguson’s pursuit of unbridled subpoena power — all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court — and Ferguson’s attempts to hold Emanuel to honor his broken promises to expand the inspector general’s investigative powers to the City Council, the Public Building Commission and the Chicago Park District.

Ferguson has embarrassed the mayor with audits that question Emanuel’s bold cost-saving claims and suggesting ways the mayor can raise revenue and reduce expenses.

For the mayor’s part, he has pointed to his efforts to hold the IG’s office harmless from budget cuts impacting other city departments and to the many rounds of ethics reforms he has introduced. And Emanuel has argued that inspectors general around the nation get along just fine without power to enforce their own subpoenas.

The latest blow-up occurred this week when Ferguson pointedly accused the Emanuel administration of stonewalling his attempt to audit the mayor’s grid-based garbage collection system and verify the mayor’s $18 million-a-year savings claim.

Emanuel insisted Tuesday his only quarrel with Ferguson was the inspector general’s timing in launching the audit before the transition was fully implemented.

And the mayor made it a point to note that the switch from a ward-by-ward system of garbage collection to a less expensive grid system modeled after FedEx routes was debated for decades — and suggested by Ferguson himself in 2011 — but only implemented after Emanuel took office.

“There’s an openness [and] a willingness. I want all my commissioners to cooperate [with the inspector general] because we’ve used a lot of the studies . . . to actually bring the type of savings the taxpayers expect,” he said.

The mayor noted that the grid system requires 312 trucks a day, down from 360 trucks a day under the “political” ward system.

But, he said, “We didn’t want to study it while were implementing it, but get it implemented and then we want it studied, so we can actually show the full savings.”

Ferguson pointedly accused Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams of dead-ending his grid garbage audit by walking out of a March meeting with Ferguson’s audit team when pressed for information about his plans to monitor operations.

Williams was further accused of stonewalling requests to resume the discussion.

But Emanuel said, “In fact, the study was ongoing in April when some people thought the conversation ended in March.”

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