Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has quietly changed the rules governing merit promotions, casting another cloud over a process condemned by officers interviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “reward for cronyism.”

City Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo aren’t happy they weren’t informed about Johnson’s decision to allow members of the five-member Merit Board to nominate their own candidates, provided they don’t interview or vote on their own nominees.

Also troubling, they say, is the fact that Johnson made the change in a “verbal order” — and applied it to the last two waves of promotions — even though the change has yet to be finalized in writing.

“CPD should not be operating from nonofficial, nonpublic orders,” said Ferguson, whose office monitors police merit promotions.

Angelo added that “the structure was set up the way it was set up to not allow them to nominate for obvious reasons. It seems to be borderline unethical.”

In its report on the Chicago Police Department, the Justice Department said the “lack of transparency” surrounding the process of nominating and qualifying for merit promotions was “one of the major complaints from officers” interviewed.

“Many of the officers we spoke with, minority and non-minority alike, told us they feel merit promotions are not truly based on merit, but rather the clout you hold in the department or who you know,” said the DOJ report released in January.

Twenty percent of detectives and 30 percent of other ranks are promoted under the merit system. Supervisors nominate candidates and a five-member board of deputy chiefs interviews them and votes on them. The names of the candidates approved by the board are forwarded to the superintendent for his final OK.

The rest of the promotions are made through a testing process.

The city has used merit promotions since the 1990s, with the stated goal of boosting the number of minorities in supervisory positions.

In previous promotions, members of the Merit Board weren’t allowed to participate in the nomination process. The rule was intended to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest.

But in November, Johnson gave a verbal order that scrapped that ban. Under the new rules, board members must recuse themselves from interviews of candidates who they’ve nominated and can’t vote on them, said Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the police department.

Guglielmi said the superintendent wanted to allow the Merit Board members who handled the sergeant promotions to make nominations because most of them have backgrounds in the patrol division.

He said the superintendent’s goal was to boost the number of nominations of patrol officers.

“The whole concept here was to make sure patrol — the backbone of the department — gets the fairest representation,” he said. “That’s his [Johnson’s] personal view on merit selection. . . . He was chief of patrol himself.”

Johnson’s new rule applied to the two latest waves of promotions — one for officers who were promoted to detective on Jan. 2 and the other one for officers promoted to sergeant on Feb. 6.

Starting with the merit promotions to sergeant, Johnson decided to make public the names of those who get merit promotions along with the names of the supervisors who nominate them, Guglielmi said.

The Feb. 6 list was publicized on the department’s internal computer system for officers to see. The idea was to make the process more “transparent,” Guglielmi said.

Merit Board members nominated 11 officers for promotion to sergeant, Guglielmi said. Three of those 11 officers received merit promotions. The other eight officers nominated by the board members could receive merit promotions in the future.

A total of 143 officers were promoted to sergeant on Feb. 6, including those who were promoted solely on the basis of their test scores.

Guglielmi refused to release the list of officers who received merit promotions to detective on Jan. 2, saying that promotional class was selected before Johnson decided to make merit-promotion nominations public. A total of 136 officers were promoted to detective, records show.

The Merit Board members who presided over the Feb. 6 sergeants’ promotions included deputy chiefs Eric Washington, Alfred Nagode, Keith Calloway, Steven Caluris and Maria Pena, Guglielmi said.

He said representatives of the Inspector General’s Office have attended meetings at which the Merit Board members interviewed candidates.

Still, Ferguson said the November policy change concerning the Merit Board was made “behind the scenes without OIG being consulted or otherwise being apprised.”

Guglielmi responded that Johnson’s verbal order is in the process of being turned into a written order that will be posted online.

“They will be notified of the change,” he said of the inspector general’s office. “That is part of the process.”

“One thing we are working on is that our written orders sometimes lag behind the verbal direction of the department. That is something we are trying to expedite,” Guglielmi said.

Angelo, meanwhile, said he didn’t understand the need for Johnson’s change in the first place.

“That just casts a whole other suspicious blanket over the entire merit process,” he said. “I don’t understand the need for that. If I recuse myself, the other four people I sit with are voting on my person. They put the distance in between the nominators and the selection committee for a reason.”