City IG blasts mayor for lack of document access
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org April 17, 2013 3:36PM
Updated: April 17, 2013 5:41PM
Chicago faces a “risk of increased waste, fraud and misconduct” by city employees and contractors because Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to give the city’s inspector general unrestricted access to city documents and the power to enforce his own subpoenas, Inspector General Joe Ferguson warned Wednesday.
Ferguson fired back, one week after Emanuel made it clear he has no intention of introducing a legislative remedy to an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that could tie Ferguson’s hands and insulate Emanuel and his staff from investigation.
“The city faces risk of increased waste, fraud and misconduct among city employees and vendors by ignoring the problems the IGO faces . . . This office has only the authority to do the job the mayor wants it to do and not the authority to do the job that it is statutorily obligated to do,” Ferguson wrote in a letter to aldermen that preceded his quarterly report.
“The mayor, in publicly stating that the IGO has all the authority it needs, is mandating that the IGO cannot follow the evidence where it leads. Instead, the mayor and his corporation counsel can cut off access to the evidence needed to definitively determine who, or what is responsible for possible waste, fraud and abuse in city government. That is true whether the transgressor is at the ground level, in middle management or ensconced in the corridors of real power in City Hall.”
Under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, longtime Inspector General Alexander Vroustouris was accused of focusing on, what Ferguson called, “small fry” investigations while ignoring the big stuff that triggered the federal Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals.
Ferguson said he’s proud of the skilled staff of auditors, attorneys and investigators he has assembled to overcome that reputation.
But, he said, “All of the talent in the world cannot overcome a lack of access” to information, records and documents. Ferguson noted that his office has been denied access to “relevant city records in a number of investigations” — not just the one that triggered the unprecedented lawsuit.
“We therefore will make it standard procedure to ask the mayor to provide the access to which we are entitled by city ordinance when that access is thwarted. When access is expressly denied or . . . no response is received to our requests, investigations will likely be closed and the lack of access will be reported publicly. If it involves hiring, it will be duly reported to the Shakman monitor,” Ferguson wrote.
Emanuel responded to Ferguson’s broadside by reiterating that the inspector general doesn’t need more power than his state and federal counterparts.
Never mind that Ferguson’s threat to report stymied hiring investigations to the federal hiring monitor could undermine Emanuel’s ability to get out from under the Shakman decree and the millions in costs incurred by the federal monitor.
“The Supreme Court decision on this is unanimous. It speaks for itself. Two, the IG has independence on their budget, independence on their hiring, which is one of the things that’s been asked for for years. Three, the IG has the same power and capability that the state IG and the federal IG’s have,” Emanuel said.
“Now, I don’t think they’re not capable of doing their job. And I think [Ferguson] is a good IG. Therefore, I think he can do his job.”
Emanuel laughed when asked whether he planned to reappoint Ferguson when the inspector general’s term expires this fall.
“I have plenty of time. I have a couple of other appointments I’m gonna be working on between now and then,” he said.
Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ferguson does not have statutory authority to enforce his subpoenas of city documents.
When the corporation counsel chooses not to enforce those IG subpoenas or has a conflict of interest, the inspector general’s only recourse is to appeal to the mayor — even when the IG’s investigation either targets or involves the mayor’s office.
That literally means that, whenever the mayor’s office wants to stymie a high-level investigation, all it needs to do is put an attorney in the room. That way, the corporation counsel’s office can claim attorney-client privilege and refuse to comply with subpoenas issued by the inspector general.
The bitter defeat for Ferguson followed an unprecedented 2009 lawsuit filed by the inspector general’s office demanding that then-Corporation Counsel Mara Georges turn over documents the inspector general considered vital to the investigation of how former top mayoral aide Charles Bowen was awarded a $100,000 sole-source contract with the Chicago Police Department “in apparent violation of the City’s ethics and contracting rules.”
As always, the inspector general’s quarterly report includes a summary of pending cases, without naming names.
◆ A Chicago Police officer assigned to serve court summonses for building violations for the city’s Law Department who allegedly used that authority to funnel business to a friend whose company remedied building violations. The Chicago Police Department did not discipline the officer because of a jurisdictional dispute, Ferguson wrote.
◆ Four current or former Health Department employees who allegedly “embezzled” city-purchased Jewel and Target gift cards that were supposed to be distributed to patients and their newborn babies to purchase food and medicines and or given to clients “as an incentive to obtain medical treatment.”
◆ An Animal Control officer accused of repeatedly falsifying time sheets to conceal the fact that he or she was “trapping stray cats” and releasing them to a private shelter, instead of impounding them, as required by the city.
◆ A former contracts compliance coordinator for the city’s Department of Procurement Services who allegedly “promoted and approved” a scheme that used minority contractors as “pass through” companies on residential sound insulation work at O’Hare and Midway airports.