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Editorial: Mayor’s risky move

Updated: May 16, 2013 6:15AM

If Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his way, the school system will spend $121 million to upgrade 55 schools that are supposed to absorb students from closed schools. Another $110 million also will go for other capital projects at dozens of other schools.

And in a break from past practice, this work will be overseen by the Public Building Commission, not by the school system. The PBC, which Emanuel chairs, is firmly under his control.

This raises many questions, not least of which is whether the PBC is up to the job. It typically does major building construction for the city, not the smaller jobs on tap for these 55 schools, such as building science labs, painting and masonry work.

CPS, we understand, had done much of the legwork before it was handed over to the PBC last week. Now, it’s been dumped into the PBC’s lap.

The mayor’s office insists the PBC has a proven record and can handle this influx of work quickly and at a fair rate. This move, it says, frees up CPS to focus on education.

We hope so, because there isn’t a minute or a dime to waste. Emanuel and CPS have said the work will be done by late August — that means dozens of contracts, payouts and expedited construction schedules.

We’d feel far more comfortable if Chicago’s inspector general was minding the store. But in a move that contradicted a campaign pledge, Emanuel has refused to extend Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s jurisdiction to the PBC. Emanuel also failed to give him promised oversight of the park district. Both agencies instead recently created their own inspector general offices, both of which have smaller budgets and less independence than Ferguson’s.

Emanuel’s office defends this broken campaign pledge, saying each agency now, for the first time, “is subject to independent oversight and accountability by its very own inspector general,” who can “focus their time and energy solely on the distinct issues facing each agency.”

But the logic for giving the city IG this authority is as sound today as it was during the campaign. One IG, with broad authority, has a much better shot of keeping city government honest than a fragmented system of IGs of varying budgets and authority spread across the city.

This was Emanuel’s choice and is Emanuel’s burden. Whether PBC succeeds or fails, it’s on the mayor.

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