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Inspector general now at odds with Mayor Emanuel

Updated: July 20, 2011 4:49PM

It looks like the power struggle between Chicago’s inspector general and the mayor’s office, which raged under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is continuing under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson went public on the issue Tuesday in a letter accompanying his latest quarterly report, talking about impediments he says keep him from exercising the independence he needs to root out waste and corruption.

Ferguson, who was given responsibility last year for the oversight of city hiring, wrote that “robust oversight” is being hampered by “serious understaffing.”

“The city has never permitted the IGO to fully staff the unit, even as authorized by its budget,” Ferguson wrote.

Ferguson sai another roadblock he faces is a “continuing legal dispute” over access to information and documents held by the city’s Law Department. The controversy stems from a lawsuit filed by the inspector general demanding that the Law Department turn over documents needed for an investigation into how former top Daley aide Charles Bowen was awarded a $100,000 sole-source contract with the Chicago Police Department. In April, the Illinois Appellate Court recognized the inspector general’s power to hire a private attorney to seek judicial enforcement of a subpoena served on the corporation counsel in the case.

Ferguson disclosed Tuesday that Emanuel’s administration has filed to appeal that to the Illinois Supreme Court, in effect, he wrote, adopting “wholesale the position of the prior administration . . . that the iGO is not a legally independent agency.”

Unable to hire without the mayor’s OK, Ferguson said his office remains “unprotected and thus vulnerable to retribution.” And he said his jurisdiction still doesn’t “fully extend to . . . sister agencies” including the Chicago Park District and the Emanuel-chaired Public Building Commission.

Emanuel’s communications director Chris Mather said the mayor is committed to giving Ferguson the resources he needs, “never opposed” filling hiring-oversight vacancies and “further, we just met with the inspector general and agreed to approve the hiring of investigators.”

Regarding the documents Ferguson wants, Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said that’s a matter of “attorney-client privilege.”

“The IG still has a variety of means at his disposal to investigate misconduct,” Hoyle said.

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