CITY HALL — City Council progressives strongly backed another term for Inspector General Joseph Ferguson in the face of what they called "delaying tactics" by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"We've got a good inspector general. We don't see the need to delay this any longer," Ald. John Arena (45th) of the Progressive Reform Caucus said at a City Hall news conference Tuesday morning.
"We're here to support an IG who's done an incredible job for the City of Chicago and shown himself to be fair and impartial and diligent in his work."
"The time to reappoint the inspector general is now," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). "We don't feel it is in the taxpayers' interest to wait."
Ferguson was appointed to the office under the Daley administration in November 2009, and has sparred with Mayor Emanuel. Emanuel blocked Ferguson's access to Daley administration records and won a court case on appeal that limited the inspector general's subpoena power. Many of the same progressive aldermen have sought to give him that power in amended ordinances that have been sidetracked in the Rules Committee.
Most recently, Ferguson traded jabs with the mayor over administration claims of $18 million in savings from grid-based garbage collection.
"Inspector General Ferguson has demonstrated the ability to be effective, to be impartial and to be fair and to get to the issues that matter the most to our taxpayers," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).
Aldermen also cited Ferguson's probing of red-light cameras, which Ald. Scott Waguespack called "one of the most hated programs in the City of Chicago." Munoz said that displayed a "healthy tension" between the Mayor's Office and a designated good-government watchdog.
"A strong mayor," Waguespack added, "would immediately move forward on reappointing this IG. If he delays or stalls or takes a different course, to me that shows the type of commitment he has to rooting out the waste and the inefficiencies and all the things that are happening in our government."
Emanuel has not committed himself to reappointing Ferguson at the end of his four-year term in November, but has said he would have to reapply to retain the position. Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) said Ferguson had told him he would reapply and went on to call Ferguson "a man of high integrity" who is "doing a great job."
"As we’ve said, the mayor and the IG will connect and discuss the IG’s plans," said mayoral spokesman Tom Alexander. "The mayor has pledged to use an independent blue-ribbon committee to recommend his first IG appointment, and anyone is free to apply. The mayor has the utmost respect for the critical role that the IG plays in ensuring accountability and transparency in city government, and will continue to work with the office to root out waste and corruption."
Attention now turns to strengthening the Office of the Inspector General through proposals that would grant him subpoena power, but are stuck in the Rules Committee, which was considered "where good legislation goes to die" under the chairmanship of Ald. Richard Mell (33rd). With Mell's retirement, chairmanship passed to Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), but another proposal uncomfortable to the administration again wound up in Rules last month.
"We'll see, as we have a new head of Rules," Fioretti said. "And if it doesn't move, we'll move it ourselves."
"We're gonna try to raise a little ruckus and make sure it happens," said Brian Sleet, chief of staff to Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), one of the measure's lead sponsors. "But we definitely feel Michelle Harris is friendlier to this than Chairman Mell was."
Harris did not respond to requests for comment.
Eight members of the PRC backed the reappointment of Ferguson, including Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Toni Foulkes (15th), who like Sawyer missed the news conference. Emily Miller, policy and government affairs coordinator for the Better Government Association, said that agency was also throwing its support behind Ferguson, joined by David Hoffman, who held the IG position under Mayor Richard M. Daley.