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Mayor Emanuel defends reappointment of city watchdog

Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times file photo

Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: October 7, 2013 12:45PM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended his decision to reappoint the fiercely-independent inspector general he inherited to another four-year term, but with the understanding that Joe Ferguson will likely leave after next summer.

The mayor said Ferguson concurred in the one-year time frame during a discussion Friday about what it would take for the city to get out from under the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor.

“Joe and I share the same vision because we’re almost there. I would describe it as kind of like on the ten-yard. . . . We’re very close to eliminating the Shakman decree from the city’s books,” Emanuel said Wednesday.

“Shakman has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. It’s been a stain on the city that we never professionalized our hiring practices. We are finally . . . making real progress. . . . He then offered that he thought we could get that done — which is a goal of mine and a goal of his — and that it would take about a year to do that. That’s what he offered up, then he would be done. And that’s what we agreed to.”

Ferguson refused to comment. If he still has work to do after next summer, sources said he won’t hesitate to stay longer than one more year.

Friday’s City Hall meeting was the first between the two adversaries in the nearly 28 months since the mayor took office — that’s how contentious their relationship has been.

The tension 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 audit city programs to verify the mayor’s bold savings claims and hold Emanuel to his campaign promises to expand the inspector general’s investigative powers to the City Council, the Public Building Commission and the Chicago Park District.

Ferguson and federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan have also hounded the mayor to punish high-ranking city 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 said first and foremost we needed a meeting. That’s what we had and we came to an agreement, both on the timeline as well as on the goal posts. And that’s what we agreed to,” the mayor said.

Until Friday, Emanuel appeared to be laying the groundwork for Ferguson’s exit.

He told the inspector general he must reapply for the $161,856-a-year job he’s held since 2009 and justified it by arguing that the formal selection process was mandated by Emanuel’s Ethics Reform Task Force.

The chairman of the Ethics Reform Task Force shot that rationale down again this week.

“We were fairly clear in what we had presented in our report — that it remained the mayor’s perogative whether he wanted to reappoint Joe or not. He didn’t have to go through a commission kind of procedure. He could reappoint him or fire him. That has always been his prerogative,” said chairman Cindi Canary.

Still, Emanuel showed no signs of bending until last month’s stunning indictment of former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad in an alleged $500,000 kickback and money laundering scheme in Ohio. It forced the mayor to use the inspector general he despised as political cover.

The mayor flatly denied that he should have known about Ahmad’s alleged wrongdoing as deputy treasurer of Ohio and promised an exhaustive investigation — with Ferguson and Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton overseeing the work of two outside attorneys — to make certain Chicago taxpayers and pension funds were not similarly victimized.

Patton and Ferguson were adversaries in the marathon court battle that tied Ferguson’s hands and insulated Emanuel and his top aides from investigation.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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