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Council group and government association call for mayor to re-appoint inspector general

 Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) demands re-appointment Inspector General Joe FergusCity Hall news conference Tuesday. Behind him (left right) are

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) demands the re-appointment of Inspector General Joe Ferguson at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. Behind him (left to right) are Aldermen: Nick Sposato (36th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); John Arena (45th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd). | Fran Spielman ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: September 15, 2013 6:21AM

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus and the Better Government Association turned up the heat on Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday to re-appoint the fiercely independent inspector general he inherited and to honor his promise to expand Joe Ferguson’s powers.

By forcing Ferguson to re-apply for the $161,856-a-year job he has held since 2009, BGA Policy Director Emily Miller said Emanuel is setting the stage for Ferguson’s exit after going toe-to-toe with Ferguson for the last two years.

“Tension that exists between the mayor and Ferguson…can be healthy. Unfortunately, the mayor has turned it into something that’s more like a playground fight,” Miller said.

“Obviously, there is some push to get Ferguson to step down or to call attention to problems the mayor believes exist there. [But] petty personal issues are not reasons to deny taxpayers the right to have somebody on their side.”

Miller said Emanuel has a “tendency to over-promote” his transparency efforts, but the Ferguson controversy shows the mayor’s true colors.

“Somebody who really is committed to transparency, rooting out waste, fraud, corruption and abuse is being held up as an example of somebody who has to go….You have to question how much the administration actually cares about the things they say they care about,” Miller said.

At a City Hall news conference Tuesday, five members of the Progressive Caucus argued that Ferguson has earned another four-year term by saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

“We’ve got a guy who’s done a good job. This isn’t a vacancy. This is a re-appointment. This is an easy decision. I urge the mayor to move on it as quickly as possible,” said Ald. John Arena (45th). Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said Chicago needs a mayor with the “strength” to embrace an inspector general as strong and independent as Ferguson.

“A strong mayor…would immediately move forward on re-appointing this IG,” Waguespack said.

“If he delays or stalls or takes a different course, that shows the type of commitment he has to rooting out the waste, inefficiencies and all of the things that are happening in our government. Just because somebody says they’ve gone out and found some more money here or there doesn’t mean that they’re totally committed.”

Ferguson could not be reached for comment. Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) said the inspector general has told him he intends to re-apply for the job.

The Progressive Caucus also demanded that the Rules Committee, under the leadership of newly-appointed Chairman Michelle Harris (8th), approve languishing ordinances that would dramatically strengthen Ferguson’s powers.

They 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.

Candidate Rahm 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 Chicago Sun-Times reported June 30 that Ferguson was told he must re-apply for the job he’s held for the last four years, setting the stage for his exit after two tension-filled years under Emanuel.

Emanuel initially argued that his handpicked Ethics Reform Commission recommended a process for selecting the next inspector general and he intends to follow it.

To do otherwise, he said, would be to denigrate the work of two of the most prominent reformers in the history of Illinois politics: the late State Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch and Cindi Canary, founder of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

But that was before two members of the Ethics Reform Task Force and Hoffman all weighed in to say the city’s newly revised ethics ordinance clearly empowers Emanuel to re-appoint his successor without requiring Ferguson to re-apply.

Emanuel is on vacation this week. His office released a statement in response to the Progressive Caucus and the BGA.

“As we’ve said, the mayor and the IG will connect and discuss the IG’s plans. The mayor has pledged to use an independent blue ribbon committee to recommend his first IG appointment, and anyone is free to apply,” the statement said.

“The mayor has the utmost respect for the critical role that the IG plays in ensuring accountability and transparency in city government, and will continue to work with the office to root out waste and corruption.”

Tensions between Emanuel and Ferguson have been mounting ever since the mayor took office. It 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 verify the mayor’s bold savings claims and hold Emanuel to honor his broken promises to expand the inspector general’s investigative powers to the City Council, the Public Building Commission and the Chicago Park District.

The latest round of tensions happened last month when Ferguson accused the Emanuel administration of stonewalling his attempt to audit the mayor’s grid-based garbage collection system and verify Emanuel’s revised, $18 million-a-year savings claim.

Emanuel insisted that he welcomed the audit — that his only quarrel with Ferguson was in launching the review before the system was fully implemented.


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