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A small victory for good government

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks newly renovated Jones College Prep High School Tuesday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at the newly renovated Jones College Prep High School on Tuesday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:20AM

We count Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to reappoint the city’s inspector general as a small victory for good government.

But only a very small one.

As the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported this week, Emanuel abandoned his ill-conceived idea of forcing the inspector general to reapply for his job and agreed to appoint the city’s excellent and fiercely independent inspector general, Joe Ferguson, to another four-year term.

Do you feel the ‘but’ coming?

Emanuel says he only expects Ferguson, whose office has constantly butted heads with the administration, to stay through next summer, once Ferguson has completed some key projects. Top of that list includes helping the city get out from under the federal hiring oversight mandated by the Shakman decree, in place to try to prevent political hiring.

To make it a real victory, Emanuel should abandon that false one-year deadline. It’s a four-year term, beginning this November, and Ferguson should serve every minute of it.

If Ferguson leaves after just one year, some of the essential work of the office will be at risk. Say, for example, that the city finds relief from the Shakman decree within the next 12 months but that’s followed by a change at the top of the IG’s office — the very office responsible for overseeing Shakman compliance? That jeopardizes that hard-fought win and invites a potential reversal.

A real victory for good government also requires that Emanuel follow through on key campaign promises he’s failed to honor. These include green-lighting an ordinance to allow the IG’s office to enforce its own subpoenas in court, extending the IG’s oversight to the Park District and the Public Building Commission and guaranteeing the IG’s office a budget floor and true independent spending authority.

Emanuel gets credit for agreeing to Ferguson’s re-appointment, dropping the false notion that Ferguson needed to apply to a blue-ribbon panel like any other applicant. Emanuel claimed that was the intent of his ethics reform task force, but several task force members made clear that Emanuel could simply reappoint Ferguson.

This about-face was likely prompted by the threat Ferguson’s departure presents to getting out from under Shakman and the recent indictment of the former city comptroller, a charge Emanuel’s office denies. After the August indictment, Emanuel turned to the IG’s office to help oversee a review of the comptroller’s work. Getting rid of the IG so quickly after finding him useful doesn’t look too good.

After two very rocky years, we have no illusions that the tensions between Emanuel’s administration and the IG’s office will ease significantly, though it appears Fergsuon and Emanuel had a productive meeting on Friday and are committed to improving the way their staffs communicate.

At best, this is a detente. Here’s hoping good government is the victor in the end.

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