CITY HALL — The city's inspector general has called into question claims that Chicago is saving $18 million on garbage pickup after the Streets and Sanitation commissioner rebuffed an attempted audit.
According to a report issued Monday by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, his office was "precluded" from performing an audit confirming those savings when Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams walked out of a meeting on the subject and rebuffed additional requests for compliance.
The city claimed the $18 million in savings when it formally completed the transition from ward-based trash pickup to a grid-based system in April.
"Due to the commissioner's refusal to cooperate, we were precluded from evaluating the impact the transition had on even simple baseline measures, such as the number of trucks and personnel employed in the garbage-collection process," Ferguson stated in the report. "In order to support the mayor's announced claim of $18 million savings, however, calculation of this impact by either DSS or the Mayor's Office, with information and analysis supplied by DSS, would have been necessary."
According to Ferguson, Williams' refusal to cooperate with the audit "raises significant doubts about the city's commitment to, and ability to effect, continual improvement in this important city service."
Williams stood by the department's estimate of $18 million in annual savings in a formal response to Ferguson's report and insisted he had cooperated with the investigation, while pointing out that the earliest inquiries, starting last December, were "premature" in that the transition wasn't completed until April.
"If the Office of the Inspector General had evaluated the entire system once it was completely in place, rather than attempting to audit the system during its adoption, they too would have arrived at that conclusion," Williams said.
"We believe the inspector general's audit of the system midway through implementation was premature, and the appropriate approach to auditing the large scale transition of Chicago's refuse collection system is to roll the program out completely, review for issues and best practices, adjust strategies accordingly, and audit."
Williams' office said he would be open to further review of the transition and was confident the new grid-based system would be shown to produce savings over the old ward-based system.
Ferguson formally asked the Emanuel administration to substantiate its claims of $18 million in savings.
Ferguson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have tangled over an appeals court decision denying the IG's office subpoena power over the mayor, among other matters. Ferguson was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in November 2009, and Emanuel recently stated he would have to reapply for the position — without saying how likely it would be to extend Ferguson's tenure.