Despite disagreements, Emanuel to reappoint City Hall watchdog

September 3, 2013

AP/File
File: Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Despite public disagreements, Emanuel will reappoint City Hall watchdog Joe Ferguson.

Despite months of public disagreements with his City Hall watchdog, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will reappoint Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to another term, the mayor’s office confirmed Tuesday.

The announcement is an about-face for Emanuel, who had earlier insisted that Ferguson must reapply for the job when his term runs out in November. But Emanuel apparently changed his mind following a face-to-face meeting between the two men on Friday.

"Friday morning, I met with Inspector General Joe Ferguson and we had a positive and fruitful discussion," Emanuel was quoted as saying in a statement. "I am pleased to accept the Inspector General's offer to stay on through next summer and complete the important work currently underway. I look forward to working with Joe to see the City to full Shakman compliance and end four decades of federal hiring oversight. The Inspector General and I share the same underlying goal: protecting the taxpayers of the city of Chicago. We both will continue to work tirelessly on their behalf."

A handful of Chicago aldermen have been calling on Emanuel to reappoint Ferguson. Even though city law would have allowed him do that, Emanuel had maintained that Ferguson must go through the same committee vetting process as any new inspector general candidate.

“The Mayor and I had a very productive discussion and I thank him for agreeing to allow me to continue to work on wrapping up some unfinished projects, most notably achieving Shakman compliance and fully implementing the administration’s ethics reform bill," Ferguson was quoted as saying in a statement to WBEZ Tuesday morning. "I expect we can do that by the end of the summer and then I plan to move on to other things.”

Chicago inspectors general are appointed to four-year terms, so if Ferguson is reconfirmed by the City Council, he could conceivably stay on longer.

Some tension is to be expected between an inspector general, charged with rooting out government waste and fraud, and the politicians and bureaucrats he watches over. But the pitch of the feud between the city Inspector General’s Office and the Fifth Floor has grown louder in recent months.

In July, the Inspector General’s Office published a report detailing how one Emanuel deputy stormed out of the room when auditors with the IG’s office tried to ask him questions about the city’s new ward-by-ward trash collection, which Emanuel’s administration claims will save $18 million a year.

In April, Ferguson accused the Emanuel administration of hampering its investigations by refusing to support changes to the law that would insulate the IG’s office from the political budget process, and allow it to enforce its own subpoenas.

Emanuel responded by suggesting Ferguson had all the authority he needed to do his job well.

The fight over subpoena power climbed all the way to Illinois Supreme Court. In March, the justices ruled that only the mayor’s administration may enforce subpoenas issued by the inspector general, even if the people or offices under investigation are in the mayor’s administration.

But the recent indictment of Chicago’s former comptroller, Amer Ahmad, have spurred the two offices to cooperate. Ferguson is working with Emanuel’s top lawyer to oversee a third-party review of Ahmad’s time at City Hall, though the federal charges against him stem from his earlier job as Deputy Treasurer for the State of Ohio.

If Ferguson accepts the reappointment, he would need to be reconfirmed by a vote of the City Council.

Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him @akeefe.