Ferguson to stay on as City Hall watchdog

June 5, 2014

WBEZ/File
Inspector General Joe Ferguson talks with WBEZ.

It looks like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be stuck with City Hall’s corruption-fighting inspector general for longer than he anticipated.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson said Wednesday he will stay in his job beyond the end-of-summer departure date he discussed with the mayor last year.

“Right now, there’s work to do and I think there’s a general sense that the office of Inspector General is doing a pretty good job of advancing it, so we keep on keepin’ on,” Ferguson told WBEZ Wednesday.

News that Ferguson will stay on as the city government watchdog comes weeks after the City Hall finally struck an agreement to emerge from years of federal hiring oversight. With the end of monitoring under the so-called “Shakman decrees” - which aim to stomp out political patronage - the role of hiring oversight will now shift to Ferguson’s office

The inspector general has had a frosty relationship with Emanuel’s administration at times, which initially cast doubt on whether the mayor would reappoint Ferguson to the job. Emanuel initially wanted to make Ferguson reapply for his post, but the mayor reversed course and reappointed him last year, following complaints from some aldermen.

In a statement released by the mayor’s office announcing the reappointment in September 2013, Ferguson was quoted as saying he would “move on to other things” by the end of this summer, after the city emerged from the federal hiring oversight.

But on Wednesday, Ferguson told WBEZ he now plans to stay on longer than that. Under city ordinance, Ferguson is free to fill out the rest of his four-year term, though he declined to say whether he would.

“I’m gonna answer the question by telling you I’m not gonna answer the question, and I’m not gonna answer the question because that’s just not how I look at things,” Ferguson said. He continues to take a day-by-day approach to his job because “any other approach puts me and the office at risk of taking our eye off the ball.”

In an interview Wednesday night with WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” Emanuel said Ferguson was key in helping City Hall reach an agreement to end court hiring oversight under the Shakman case, but said he asked the inspector to stay on the job to help during the transition.

“Well, we have a very good working relationship,” Emanuel said. “Joe has been a partner, his office has been a partner, every report he has - he issues, we don’t let it sit on the shelf and gather dust.”

A federal judge must still give final approval to end the court hiring oversight, which could happen at a hearing on June 16.

Ferguson credited the Emanuel administration for making strides in coming out from under the Shakman heel, which has cost the city millions of dollars over the years. But he said there’s still work to be done in order to come into “full compliance” with the court orders, particularly with police and fire departments.

The inspector general’s office is also looking into whether police followed the proper protocol when they investigated the 2004 case of David Koschman, who died after being punched by R.J. Vanecko, a nephew of long-time Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Vanecko was charged with manslaughter and pleaded guilty only years after the assault, following an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Additionally, Ferguson said his office is still working on implementing the city’s new ethics ordinance, as well as other investigations he wouldn’t disclose.

“One thing I do know, there’s four years’ worth of work out there to do,” Ferguson said. “There’s probably a lifetime of work out there to do. And right now, my intention is to keep on doing it.”

Alex Keefe is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.