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Aldermen, BGA applaud mayor for reappointing Ferguson

Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times file photo

Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:21AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel salvaged his “good government credentials” by reappointing Inspector General Joe Ferguson — instead of replacing a “watchdog with a lapdog” — even if the new, four-year term ends early, reformers said Tuesday.

One day after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed the mayor’s surprise reappointment and the one-year timetable for Ferguson’s exit, the Better Government Association, the chairman of Emanuel’s Ethics Reform Task Force and independent aldermen applauded the mayor for putting the interests of Chicago taxpayers ahead of his political self-interest.

“The mayor ran on a platform of reform. He’s taken a lot of hits for his failure to keep significant promises about expanding the scope and impact of the inspector general. This recoups some of those losses,” said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association.

“The mayor has not gotten along well with Joe Ferguson. Yet, he understood that it’s more important to have a strong, independent watchdog than a lapdog he can control. If Joe Ferguson leaves next summer, it’ll be because he wants to — not because he was pushed out. That’s a strong, pro-ethics move by Mayor Emanuel. Had he dumped Ferguson, it would have further undermined his good government credentials.”

Cindi Canary, chairman of the mayor’s Ethics Reform Task Force, said Emanuel obviously concluded there was “no point in having a protracted fight” with Ferguson that could undermine the city’s efforts to get out from under the costly constraints of the Shakman decree and a federal hiring monitor.

“There are a number of things mid-stream like the investigation of the [indicted] former comptroller and the Shakman work. It seems to make sense to stick with somebody who’s strong to get that work done. It also makes sense with the new ethics ordinance to try and put those pieces in place before moving forward with a new cast of characters,” Canary said.

“There is always a natural tension with an inspector general because they are in an administration, but not of it. Joe Ferguson and the mayor are both strong-willed individuals. It’s a recipe for things boiling up. It was extraordinarily healthy that they sat down and talked [and]…reached agreement after what seemed like a convoluted dance.”

As leaders of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) have been hounding Emanuel to retain Ferguson.

They’re thrilled the inspector general is sticking around but troubled by the mayor’s claim that the new four-year term is likely to end after next summer. Ferguson has concurred in that timetable.

“Once again, the mayor is tinkering around the edges [and saying], `I’m gonna reappoint him but it’s only for a year’ and, I’m gonna have him investigate the comptroller, but with the corporation counsel standing right next to him,’ ” Waguespack said.

“Ferguson is doing a fantastic job working independently of the mayor. He should get four years — nothing less — and be given all the power he needs, including power over the City Council. There’s so much in the hopper right now in terms of audits and investigations. I’d like to see him see all of those things through to the end.”

Fioretti demanded that the Rules Committee approve languishing 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 IG “no less than 1 percent” of the city budget and compel the city to cooperate with IG audits, program reviews and hearings in addition to investigations.

As a candidate, 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 Progressive Caucus is pleased the mayor has reappointed Joe Ferguson. It’s a first step in helping reform the culture of corruption. But our ordinances are still out there to strengthen the office. If you’re serious, let’s move the ordinances,” Fioretti said.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, made it clear those reforms are going nowhere.

“You can’t have an office that is totally above and outside the law of the city and state,” O’Connor said.

“Joe has been operating for four years. He’s getting the job done. His office seems to be functioning well. I don’t blame anybody for always wanting to have more authority. But you can’t have everything you want.”

As for the one-year timetable, O’Connor said it allows Ferguson to wrap up pending investigations of employees who testified under grants of immunity at federal trials that culminated in the conviction of Daley’s former patronage chief and Streets and Sanitation commissioner on charges of rigging city hiring and promotions to benefit the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.

“I don’t think either of them were relishing the idea of pointing fingers and saying who’s at fault. They found a way to work together on a few things. It’s a good compromise,” O’Connor said.

“Ferguson continues what he’s doing wrapping up cost containment on Shakman. If that happens, that’s a huge cost savings and a heckuva way to go out on top.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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