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Mayor Lightfoot must appoint a strong and independent inspector general — but will she?

Given her battles with the last IG, we’re concerned that Lightfoot will instead appoint a lapdog willing to abide with the mayor’s wishes.

Deputy Inspector General Deborah Witzberg is seeking the top spot at the IG’s office.
Deputy Inspector General Deborah Witzberg is seeking the top spot at the IG’s office.
City of Chicago/Provided

It’s been a mystery to us what Mayor Lori Lightfoot expects from the city’s inspector general’s office.

The ex-federal prosecutor campaigned for mayor as a reformer, but she clashed with past Inspector General Joe Ferguson at virtually every turn as his office exposed waste or potential corruption, particularly when it spotlighted the Chicago Police Department.

So we’re intrigued that Ferguson’s very capable deputy, Deborah Witzburg, now wants to be the next inspector general.

Witzburg, the deputy inspector general for public safety, led the office’s probes into police hiring, the efficacy — or lack thereof — of ShotSpotter technology and other investigations. She obviously possesses the qualities to be an ace as inspector general.

But given Lightfoot’s battles with the dogged and independent-minded Ferguson, our fear is that she’ll bypass Witzburg — or someone like her — and appoint an IG who is a lapdog, loyal to the mayor. An IG who will only go where it’s sent and sit up and speak only when it’s told.

That might be good for Lightfoot, but it would be terrible for taxpayers who deserve a fully independent inspector general to keep a watchful eye on city operations.

Witzburg this week sent a letter to the mayor saying she would resign effective Nov. 12, citing her desire to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest while she pursues the top job.

IG candidate’s reports critical of police

What’s likely to be a strike against Witzburg’s candidacy: As deputy IG, she issued reports that rapped the police department on a number of issues, particularly the department’s performance during the civil unrest in the summer of 2020, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The report said “the efforts of CPD and the city to stem unrest were marked, almost without exception, by confusion and lack of coordination in the field, emanating from failures of intelligence assessment, major event planning, field communication and operation, administrative systems and, most significantly, leadership from CPD’s highest ranks.”

The IG’s findings weren’t off the mark. Police officials responded to the report by saying the department reassessed its large-scale emergency response capabilities following the disturbances.

But the response from the mayor’s office? Lightfoot’s office chided the IG report for not mentioning that other big-city police departments also struggled to respond effectively during the George Floyd protests.

“To tell the story of those historic days of late May and early June without fully putting these episodes in that important context is to miss the mark,” the office said in a statement.

Next IG must stay ‘in their lane’: Lightfoot

For her part, Lightfoot says she wants a strong and independent inspector general. That’s good to hear.

But she also says she wants an IG who “understands the importance of staying in their lane.”

The mandate for an IG to “stay in their lane” sounds like a purity test to us — with the results outweighing competency when the decision is made on who gets the post.

That’s the kind of wink-and-a-nod, old-school Chicago stuff Lightfoot campaigned against in 2019.

The mayor would do well to dismiss this requirement and appoint an inspector general who is not required to be tethered on a mayoral leash as a condition of getting the job.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, told the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman that Witzburg “has done an incredibly good job,” as deputy inspector general.

“Deborah is spot-on when it comes down to — not just the investigations, but the explanation of those investigations,” he said.

But Taliaferro also said Witzburg “will have to stand on her record and the perception of that record by the mayor.”

Witzburg’s record alone should make her a near shoo-in. So we’re concerned the mayor could see it as a problem.

The mayor can allay those concerns by giving Witzburg’s candidacy an honest look.

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