• OCT 01, 2015

    Inspector General Joe Ferguson Goes on the Offensive on Council Oversight

    A low-attendance, end of the day hearing on the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was punctuated by a forceful, two word call to action and rebuke from IG Joe Ferguson on oversight of City Council: “Fix this.” By the end of Ferguson’s testimony at around 6:40 p.m., only a dozen aldermen were left.

    Attendance: Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Michelle Harris (8), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Ricardo Munoz (22), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Scott Waguespack (32), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Michele Smith (43), Joe Moore (49)

    For close to a year, a carefully crafted ordinance to fold in the Office of the Legislative Inspector General, currently headed by Faisal Khan, into the OIG, has been on hold. Khan, who rubbed many aldermen the wrong way (Ald. Moreno said Khan had a “cowboy mentality” and a staff of “political operators”), sent letters to aldermen and the Mayor this summer pleading for an adequate amount of money to do his job. His task was to provide oversight of 50 aldermen and roughly 450 staff with a budget of about $350,000. He eventually turned to paying staff out of his own pocket.

    He told Aldertrack in early August, “It’s impossible to do your job when you’re supposed to ask for money from the people you’re supposed to oversee.”

    Ferguson alluded to the subject’s touchiness when Ald. Scott Waguespack asked whether he was up for taking on the oversight task. “This is a long standing loose wire, a raw, sore spot for many people in this body,” he explained. Ald. Pat O’Connor (40), Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), Ald. Michelle Harris (8), representatives of the Law Department, the Mayor’s Office and the OIG’s office worked on the ordinance introduced last October to give OIG the power to investigate and audit City Council.

    “There were 37, 36 sponsors,” Ferguson said, “And I think it didn’t include you, Ald. Waguespack, it didn’t include members of the so-called Progressive Caucus, that generally are along for that sort of good government ride. And it sat.” Ald. Michele Smith (43) and Ald. Joe Moore (49) worked to tweak and re-introduce the ordinance at the start of the new term in 2015.

    That’s yet to see a vote either.

    “I will say, as a resident of the City of Chicago, and as somebody who has tried to work for good government in the City of Chicago, it’s an embarrassment that it sits there. Let’s fix this…bring it up for a vote.” If not that ordinance, then give that same authority to Khan’s office, Ferguson says, which is expected to fold from lack of funding in November.

    Ald. Joe Moore mentioned reservations some aldermen might have about unfounded accusations against them being made public, potentially damaging during elections. Aside from the Inspector General’s office good track record and the significant legal repercussions of a leak, Ferguson says an investigation going public is ultimately unlikely to happen because “it’s my ass on the line. You can call me before this body and ask what happened.” He was similarly not concerned about needing more funding than the OLIG, given the employees and institutional knowledge the office already has. “We’d make good use of that money.”

    Ferguson also talked about the evolution of his office, which he says has moved beyond just investigations, and toward a more multi-faceted approach that includes audits, compliance and program review. “There’s a cultural shift that still needs to occur” with middle management in city departments who sometimes take months to provide publicly available information. He singled out a 17-month-long “game of cat and mouse” with management at City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s office, who he says won’t hand over basic data on city stickers. He said his office is also working on investigations into overtime at CPD, and possibly the Chicago Fire Department.

    He also mentioned missed opportunities for City efficiencies, including a 2011 report his office issued saying the City is losing out on more than $100 million on unnecessary motor truck drivers. “As we approach the 2017 bargaining round, since the unions are the greatest beneficiaries of the increase in taxes…the workforce and their representatives in the unions need to be partners…to work with the administration and the City Council to take their hands off of work rules that result in this sort of waste.”

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