As city’s inspector general announces departure, Lightfoot must name a skilled replacement

We’d like to see the city’s watchdog serve an additional term. But if that can’t happen, we want to see a successor as equally skilled and independent as Ferguson.

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City Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

City Inspector General Joe Ferguson announced plans to step down from office when his term ends in October.

Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times file

In a city that has proved time and again that its government needs constant oversight, Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has done a yeoman’s job of trying to keep officials honest and the public aware.

The office investigates municipal waste, abuse and corruption. Some of its findings are major, such as his office telling police earlier this year to clean up their act on the issue of “wrong warrants” — the kind that led to the botched raid at the home of social worker Anjanette Young.

Or that the Chicago Fire Department’s anti-discrimination policies and training lack the rigor needed “to meet the environmental challenges posed by a command control emergency service operation like CFD,” according to an April report from the inspector general’s office.

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But after 12 years in office, Ferguson has announced he’s stepping down when his term ends in October.

Ferguson is clearly jumping before he can be pushed: Mayor Lori Lightfoot — with whom he’s bumped heads — indicated last year she wouldn’t support a fourth term for Ferguson.

We’d like to see the city's watchdog serve an additional term. We’ve long been impressed by Ferguson’s forthrightness and his ability to drag the city — which is oftentimes kicking and screaming — toward transparency and accountability.

But if that can’t happen, we want to see a successor as equally skilled and independent as Ferguson.

‘Public doesn’t trust government’

Mayor Richard M. Daley named Ferguson, a former federal prosecutor, to the inspector general’s post in 2009.

“The public doesn’t trust government,” Ferguson told the Sun-Times in 2019. “And it’s not just Chicago government. It’s government generally. So, the only way to really have confidence, at least in this generation of things, is to put the information out there.”

And with a 100-person staff and a $10 million budget, Ferguson and his team probe nearly every aspect of government, from the amount of cars with properly registered municipal plates, to overtime at the Water Department.

This month, Ferguson’s office said the Chicago Police Department should re-evaluate its hiring process after finding 37% of those who apply to be cops are Black, but of that number only 18% are asked to join the academy.

“It is the disproportionately high attrition of Black candidates throughout the hiring process, not a lack of applicants, that is most responsible for the low number of Black police officers ultimately hired,” an inspector general’s office report said.

City needs a tough IG

Under Ferguson, the inspector general’s office’ work keeps city government just a bit more honest — or at least a bit less dishonest —open and equitable.

But that mission often put him at odds with Lightfoot.

The pair disagree over the pace of police department reform efforts that were called for following the Laquan McDonald killing.

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And in February, Ferguson released areport that threw the book at police, alleging his agency found the Chicago Police Department mismanaged its response to the protests and civic unrest related to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

“I think Joe Ferguson has done tremendous work over his 12-year tenure as an inspector general, and I appreciate his decision to move on,” Lightfoot said in response to Ferguson’s planned departure.

Those are great words. But the mayor can best prove them by to appointing a successor inspector general who matches, if not surpasses, Ferguson’s zeal and abilities.

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