Emanuel to expand IG’s power to Public Building Commission

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel will move Wednesday to empower Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate the Public Building Commission, going partway toward honoring a 4-year-old campaign promise.

“Moving from a contracted Inspector General to a full-time Inspector General will increase efficiencies and enhance oversight over the PBC,” Emanuel was quoted as in a news release Monday. “From rewriting the entire ethics code in collaboration with City Council and the IG to achieving Shakman compliance, my administration is increasing accountability and changing the way Chicago goverment does business.”

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

The promises were made during a joint news conference on ethics with Ferguson’s predecessor, David Hoffman.

Instead of honoring his campaign promise, Emanuel spent two years in a cold war of sorts with Ferguson.

The two former adversaries buried the hatchet last fall, when Emanuel re-appointed 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 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.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel plans to introduce a pair of ordinances that would expand Ferguson’s powers yet again.

The first would amend the ordinance that created the inspector general’s office to give Ferguson jurisdiction over other agencies of local government — not just city departments.

The second is an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the PBC, setting the stage for Ferguson to serve as the inspector general for the Emanuel-chaired commission that oversees construction of schools, libraries, police and fire stations and other government buildings.

The PBC has a “contracted IG” — former Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Maribeth Vander Weele — whose terms expires on Oct. 1, City Hall sources said.

“Moving from a contracted IG to a full-time IG will bring efficiencies and better oversight,” mayoral spokesperson Shannon Breymaier wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Other sources said the budget for Ferguson’s additional responsibilities was still being hammered out but would be a percentage of the PBC’s budget.

Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, called the PBC ordinance a “good first step” toward honoring Emanuel’s “unfulfilled” campaign promise. He noted that the PBC is “extremely powerful” and needs the oversight that only Ferguson can provide.

But Shaw said, “The BGA also looks forward to Mayor Emanuel honoring the rest of his campaign pledge to expand the city IG’s power to include other ‘sister’ agencies, including the Park District. Also,any city IG expansion should be staffed and budgeted properly. More investigative resources are clearly required.”

Cindi Canary, the founder of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, who co-chaired Emanuel’s Ethics Reform Task Force, also welcomed the change.

“Oversight of the Public Building Commission has been seen as lacking, so tasking the City Inspector General’s office with these duties should ensure tighter enforcement of policies, laws and governmental ethics at the PBC and would be a significant step forward,” Canary wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

The mayor’s decision to extend Ferguson’s powers to the PBC will not be enough to head-off an ethics confrontation on the City Council floor during Wednesday’s meeting.

The Progressive Caucus has notified the city clerk’s office of its intention to call up a series of languishing ordinances that would strengthen Ferguson’s powers even more.

They would grant the inspector general’s office the ability to control its own personnel and “serve, enforce and defend” its own subpoenas, guarantee the IG “no less than 0.1 percent” of the city budget and compel the city to cooperate with IG audits, program reviews and hearings in addition to investigations.

“Today’s announcement reflects a commitment by the mayor and the leadership of the Public Building Commission to the role of the independent oversight in fostering efficiency, effectiveness and ethics in all coordinate parts of Chicago municipal government,” Ferguson said in a statement. “OIG welcomes this expansion of responsibilities and looks forward to working with the PBC in the shared objective of optimizing the return to the public on valuable taxpaper resources.”


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