CITY HALL — The city's inspector general said in no uncertain terms he could take charge of overseeing the City Council during budget hearings Wednesday.
Inspector Joseph Ferguson made that statement even as Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee, tried to close down that line of questioning early in Ferguson's budget hearing.
The issue has been increasingly contentious since Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan has been squabbling with aldermen, to the point where he filed suit against the council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday, claiming his office was underfunded.
On Wednesday, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) tried to ask Ferguson right away if he could assume Khan's duties. Yet Austin immediately stepped in.
"We won't speak on that one," Austin said. "I ruled it invalid."
She cited the suit and, later on, pending legislation in the Rules Committee.
Yet Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), vice chairman of the Budget Committee, who had been out of the room during Smith's questioning, later asked Ferguson again if he could take over investigating the City Council.
"Yes," Ferguson said before Austin could cut him off.
"That legislation is not before us," Austin insisted. "There's also a pending lawsuit."
"That kind of screwed up my afternoon," Reilly jested. "What can I talk about?"
Yet Ferguson made it clear afterward that he wasn't joking at all and that he supports the pending legislation, stalled in the Rules Committee, to unite all city investigative duties under one office — his.
"Is it ideal and perfect?" Ferguson said. "No, it's not. But does it meet what we regard to be sort of the baseline requirements to be effective? Yes."
Earlier, he found ways to make it clear he was prepared to expand his duties.
"With more resources, all aspects of the office could expand," he said.
He was asked if the city was meeting proposed minimum funding levels of giving his office the equivalent of .1 percent of the overall city budget.
"When we talk decimal points, we always go into dark places," Ferguson said, but he quickly added, "We're just about at that level."
Khan has insisted the approximately $350,000 a year his office has been budgeted at has been insufficient to fully police aldermen and their staffs. He sought additional investigative powers earlier this year, but the council assigned them to the Board of Ethics instead. His four-year term expires next year.
Ferguson's contract was grudgingly extended last year, but he has enjoyed better relations of late with the mayor and the council, including being called on to probe abuses in the red-light-camera system.
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