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Inspector general to unveil cost-cutting options for city

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Inspector General Joe Ferguson plans to release a report on Monday of cost-cutting "options" that could help solve the city's financial crisis.

Mayor Daley's corruption fighting inspector general said today he has prepared an analysis of cost-cutting "options" that could help solve Chicago's financial crisis, but aldermen whose spending could be in the crosshairs questioned the timing.

Joe Ferguson plans to release the report on Monday, midway through City Council hearings on a 2011 budget precariously balanced with a trick bag of one-shot revenues that includes another raid on parking meter and Chicago Skyway reserves.

Ferguson refused to offer a preview. He would only say the report includes "places the city might look" to reduce spending, arguments for and against each cut and "hard numbers" about the savings.

"Some of these are rooted in our knowledge from investigations of areas where it seems there's more people devoted to a particular function than is necessary . . . Others are places where there is an allocation of resources that seems not to be particularly effective," Ferguson said Friday during testimony at the City Council budget hearing.

High on any cost-cutting list could be the $19.5 million-a-year it costs to maintain 50 aldermen and the $4.7 million annual price tag for having 19 standing City Council committees.

Whether or not Ferguson targets those items, aldermen appeared concerned about it.

That might explain why they unloaded on the inspector general for unveiling his ideas so late in the budget process.

"It'll be presented to us as being a criticism of what we're doing, [that] clearly we're screwed up. Why can't we do it that way and put us on the defensive before we even can read it and know if that's true. That is crazy," said retiring Ald. Helen Shiller (46th).

Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) demanded to know why Ferguson's plan was not presented to aldermen six months ago, when they could do something about it.

"If you have some special magic information that can help us balance the budget, your responsibility is to share it with us, not to try to get some publicity out of it . . . It's tacky and it's poor taste. It leads people to believe inspectors general . . . are only interested in promoting their own careers," Lyle said.

Ferguson said he's "sympathetic to their ire about this happening in the middle of the budget process" and insisted the report would have been released sooner, if not for the fact that, "we don't have the personnel."

But Ferguson and his chief of investigations vehemently denied the charge from Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) that African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by the inspector general.

"If we were to track our disciplinary recommendations and findings on the basis of race, I would be accused of using race as a basis for taking action against folks. We don't track that. We don't know," Ferguson said.

Tim Thomas, the alderman's husband, was forced to resign from a high-ranking job with the Mayor's Office of Special Events after alleged hiring irregularities investigated by the inspector general's office.

On Friday, the alderman refused to discuss that investigation.