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Former city IG David Hoffman backs successor’s reappointment

Updated: August 17, 2013 6:40AM

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson got a powerful assist from his predecessor Monday in his bid for a new, four-year term amid mounting tensions with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Former Inspector General David Hoffman said Ferguson is “really independent,” has done a “great job” and the city’s newly revised ethics ordinance clearly empowers Emanuel to re-appoint Ferguson without requiring him to reapply for the $161,856-a-year job he has held since 2009.

“He’s done a great job. He’s been really independent. That independence is probably the most important aspect of being a good inspector general,” said Hoffman, a mayoral appointee to Emanuel’s $1.7 billion Infrastructure Trust.

“I don’t think they’re interpreting the ordinance correctly as it relates to the potential reappointment of Joe. The ordinance, as I read it, clearly gives the mayor discretion to reappoint the existing inspector general. They’re interpreting the ordinance [a different] way. I disagree.”

Hoffman’s investigations were frequently undermined by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. He embarrassed and infuriated Daley — mostly notably by alleging that Daley left nearly $1 billion on the table when he privatized Chicago parking meters — before resigning in 2009 to run for the U.S. Senate.

Hoffman later joined forces with then-mayoral challenger Rahm Emanuel in embracing ethics reforms designed to “change the culture” of corruption and cronyism at City Hall.

“Rahm’s public commitment to a tough and wide-ranging ethics plan has convinced me that, if elected, he will be a strong and effective mayor on reform issues,” Hoffman declared at a December, 2010 news conference that enhanced Emanuel’s appeal to independent voters.

Last year, Hoffman helped persuade his fellow board members overseeing the Infrastructure Trust to do what the mayor would not: give Ferguson carte blanche to investigate the trust and all of its projects.

On Monday, Hoffman expressed in his strongest terms yet his “disappointment” in Emanuel for blocking Ferguson’s pursuit of unbridled subpoena power — all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court — and for failing to honor his campaign promises to expand the inspector general’s investigative powers to the City Council, the Public Building Commission and the Chicago Park District.

Although Emanuel has insulated the inspector general’s office from budget cuts impacting other city departments, the mayor has yet to follow through on his promise to guarantee Ferguson one-tenth of 1 percent of the city’s annual budget.

“Those were good ideas then. Those are good ideas now. They matter for making that office work well. When that office functions well with independence and maximum efficiency, it’s providing a lot of protection for taxpayers,” Hoffman said.

“Those are important policy changes that still need to occur. That they haven’t been implemented is disappointing. Limits on the IG’s jurisdiction make it less effective.”

Hoffman noted that New York City extended the power of its inspector general to include “other parts of city government,” including the mass transit and school systems.

“Same holds true here. You want to be able to maximize your insight into potentially improper connections that spread across different parts of city government. The alternative where everything is chopped up into different baskets means less information for the IG’s office, and they will inherently be less effective than they should be,” Hoffman said.

Last week, Emanuel defended his decision to require Ferguson to reapply for the inspector general’s job, setting the stage for Ferguson’s exit after two frosty years under the new mayor.

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: the late State Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch and Cindi Canary, founder of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

The mayor didn’t flinch when told Ferguson’s supporters consider it an insult to ask an inspector general who, they believe, has been the aggressive watchdog Chicago sorely needs to reapply for the job he holds.

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

The mayor also fired back at Ferguson’s claim that City Hall stonewalled the inspector general’s attempt to audit the mayor’s grid-based garbage collection system and verify the mayor’s $18 million-a-year savings claim.

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

“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.

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.”

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