Emanuel expands IG’s powers — again —to honor campaign promise

SHARE Emanuel expands IG’s powers — again —to honor campaign promise
SHARE Emanuel expands IG’s powers — again —to honor campaign promise

Inspector General Joe Ferguson would get a guaranteed budget — of at least one-tenth of 1 percent of overall city spending — and new powers to partner with state and federal law enforcement and participate in asset recovery, under a mayoral plan to be introduced Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already empowered Ferguson to investigate the Public Building Commission — and given him a guaranteed budget for the job of $200,000 a year plus .04 percent of “projected work in place.”

Now, the IG’s budget “floor” would be extended to City Hall.

At the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Emanuel plans to introduce an ordinance that would guarantee the inspector general at least one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall city budget.

The minimum guarantee is expected to match Ferguson’s current $5.76 million a year budget once employee pensions and benefits are separated out by department, as the city budget office intends to do.

But the IG’s annual budget could never go below that level, under the change.

The ordinance that Emanuel plans to co-sponsor with with Ald. Joe Moore (49th) would also allow Ferguson to participate in asset recovery. That’s a problem the IG has characterized in his quarterly reports as a “missed opportunity” for Chicago taxpayers.

“For example, a long-running federal prosecution that concluded earlier this year arose from a joint FBI-OIG investigation into a cable television installation business. The prosecution resulted in prison sentences for lead defendants, terms of probation for co-conspirators and a $2.2 million forfeiture judgment. However, collections on forfeiture judgments like this are shared among all of the participating law enforcement organizations, but not the OIG,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

“This ordinance would remedy this situation and is just another instance of the mayor’s office working collaboratively with aldermen and the IG to encourage a more effective and accountable government.”

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to extend Ferguson’s investigative powers to the PBC, the Chicago Park District and the City Council.

Instead of honoring the promise made during a joint news conference with Ferguson’s predecessor, David Hoffman, Emanuel spent two years in a kind of cold war with Ferguson.

The two former adversaries buried the hatchet last fall, when Emanuel reappointed Ferguson to another four-year term with the unwritten understanding that the inspector general would step down after helping the city get out from under the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor.

In early June, Ferguson decided to stay on and possibly serve out his new four-year term after dramatically improving his once-contentious relationship with the mayor.

Less than two weeks later, Ferguson alone assumed the all-important power to police city hiring in the post-Shakman era after U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier released Chicago from the 42-year-old Shakman decree and dismissed federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan.

Emanuel subsequently honored his promise to extend Ferguson’s investigative powers to the PBC, which oversees construction of schools, police and fire stations, libraries and other government buildings. That ordinance also gives the IG a guaranteed budget.

During City Council budget hearings, Ferguson acknowledged that “a little maturation on my part” and a “more measured approach” toward how he speaks set the stage for his political détente with Emanuel.

“We do have greater cooperation. I attribute it to a maturation of the relationship. I’ve been in the job for five years now. The office has developed certain functions and capacities that, I hope, projects value, not merely to this body and the public but the administration itself. We are all obligated to serve the public in a way that brings the most for the least,” Ferguson said.

“The administration has come to appreciate we try to do the right thing the right way for the right reasons. There’s a greater trust that we are about what we say we are. There’s probably also been a little bit of maturation on my part as well, appreciating some of the challenges faced by the administration, by department heads, by employee . . .that leads to, maybe, a more measured approach to how it is that we speak about things that we find.”

An ordinance that empower Ferguson to investigate aldermen and City Council employees is still stuck in committee amid opposition from two powerful aldermen: Finance Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Budget Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).

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