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Emanuel wants inspector general to reapply for job

Chicago Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times files

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 2, 2013 6:56AM

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson has been told he must reapply for the $161,856-a-year job he’s held for the past four years, setting the stage for his exit after two chilly years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Tucked away in the latest round of ethics reforms was a little-noticed provision laying out the selection process for the post. It calls for the mayor to appoint a five-member “blue-ribbon panel” of college deans, retired judges, and community and civic leaders with “high moral character.” Members would “diligently search” for candidates, and the inspector general “shall be appointed by the mayor” from among their recommendations for a four-year term that “may be renewed at the discretion of the mayor” with City Council approval.

Now, the administration is using that language to force Ferguson’s hand. Either Ferguson puts his resume on the pile and his faith in a panel handpicked by the mayor, daring Emanuel to fire him, or he considers the mandate an insult and walks away from the job.

“Rahm is known for playing hardball. They may be using this new process to get rid of an IG Rahm doesn’t like,” said Dick Simpson, University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor and a former independent alderman.

Simpson noted that Emanuel campaigned on a promise to strengthen and expand the inspector general’s powers and give the city watchdog unfettered access to city documents.

“Rahm made promises he’s not so interested in keeping and Ferguson has embarrassed the administration to get documents he should have access to,” Simpson said.

“Rahm would like to appoint his own person somewhat more friendly. He wants everybody to say he’s doing a great job and not question him. Ferguson raises questions that improve the administration. A city as corrupt as Chicago is better served when corruption and waste is rooted out by a truly independent inspector general,” Simpson said.

Emily Miller, policy director for the Better Government Association, said Ferguson should be “removed for cause” or retained.

“You don’t make somebody reapply for a job. It’s a waste of money and time. There’s a learning curve. It doesn’t make sense to start over with a new inspector general when the one you have is working, uncovering corruption and doing all the things an IG is supposed to be doing,” Miller said.

Still, Miller said she’s not surprised by the maneuvering.

“It’s not a secret that Ferguson and the mayor have had issues. They’ve been involved in litigation for years. If you were to get a new IG, it’s possible and probably likely that the initiatives to get more power and establish subpoena power would go away along with Ferguson,” she said.

Ferguson could not be reached for comment. His four-year term expires in November.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, was somewhat coy when asked if City Hall was using the selection process to remove a political thorn in Emanuel’s side.

“This will be the mayor’s first appointment of that office. If they want a protocol to appoint going forward, they’re entitled to put that in place. Inviting him to apply is a better sign than if they said, `There’s no need to apply because you’re not gonna get appointed,’ ” O’Connor said.

“At one point in time, I had introduced an ordinance that would have allowed for one inspector general to be both legislative and non-legislative and, at that point, Joe had expressed a willingness to reapply because he felt that was an appropriate format. If they’re looking to find out who’s out there as candidates, I mean, it’s pretty much their choice and Joe, I don’t think, would have any issue with that.”

Former Inspector General David Hoffman embarrassed and infuriated former Mayor Richard M. Daley before using the fame he gained as Chicago’s corruption-fighting inspector general to run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Ferguson has a similarly frosty relationship with Emanuel because of his investigations, audits and aggressive suggestions to cut spending and raise revenue. Ferguson has also tried to hold the mayor to his campaign promises.

Earlier this year, Ferguson warned that Chicago faces a “risk of increased waste, fraud and misconduct” by city employees and contractors because Emanuel has refused to give the inspector general unrestricted access to city documents and the power to enforce his own subpoenas.

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. “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.”

Emanuel has pointed to steps he’s taken to fill vacancies in Ferguson’s office and exempt him from budget cuts affecting other city departments. The mayor has said he considers the city’s inspector general a “key partner in ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse,” but Joe Ferguson doesn’t need more power than his state and federal counterparts.

In a recent interview with Governing Magazine, Ferguson renewed his warning that, to be truly independent, he and other inspectors general need to control their own hiring and spending — not go hat-in-hand to the mayor.

“Terms like `transparency, accountability and oversight’ are at real risk of becoming hackneyed political terms bandied about without definition,” Ferguson was quoted as saying.

“The term IG is bastardized right now. It needs to be grounded in basic standards.”

Contributing: Tim Novak

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