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City panel gives green light to reappointing IG Joe Ferguson

Inspector General Joe Fergus |  Sun-Times file photo

Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:25AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reappointment of the fiercely independent inspector general he inherited to another four-year term — with the understanding that Joe Ferguson is likely to step down after next summer — sailed through a City Council committee Tuesday without a word of testimony or debate.

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) was so quick in calling for the voice vote, some aldermen weren’t even in the City Council chambers.

Ferguson was nowhere to be found. He didn’t show because his appearance wasn’t requested, his spokesperson said.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) believes the mayor’s office told Ferguson not to show up at his own confirmation hearing.

The alderman argued that the last thing Emanuel wants after reaching a political détente with Ferguson is to resurrect the tension or give aldermen a chance to question the IG about how long he intends to serve.

Nor did the mayor want a discussion about his failure to follow through on campaign promises to strengthen the inspector general’s powers.

“We need an inspector general who will not bow down to political pressure and one who will serve for the full four years overlapping mayoral terms,” Fioretti said Tuesday.

“He’s got things he wants to wrap up, including Shakman. [But] that doesn’t mean there won’t be other items. I believe he will be here for four years. I don’t think he has any intention of leaving. Even he has said that to me — contrary to what other people have interpreted that conversation to be.”

Emanuel has argued that Ferguson concurred in the one-year time frame during a discussion last month 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 [being] on the 10 yard line….We’re very close to eliminating the Shakman decree from the city’s books,” Emanuel said after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed the reappointment.

“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 in professionalizing our hiring practices. 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 and that’s what he offered up, then he would be done. And that’s what we agreed to.”

The City Hall meeting early last month between Emanuel and Ferguson 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 honor 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 Noelle Brennan, a federal hiring monitor, also have 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, Streets and Sanitation commissioner and two others 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.

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

He told the inspector general he must re-apply 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 his Ethics Reform Task Force.

Two members of the Ethics Reform Task Force and Ferguson’s predecessor David Hoffman disagreed.

Still, Emanuel showed no signs of bending until the 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.


Twitter: @fspielman

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