• Alex Nitkin
    MAR 30, 2022

    Lightfoot taps Witzburg as new Inspector General, ending 5-month vacancy in top post

    Deborah Witzburg served as Chicago Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety between May 2020 and November 2021.

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot has tapped former Chicago Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg as the city's next Inspector General, ending a nearly six-month open question about who will become the next permanent leader of the watchdog office, city officials confirmed Wednesday. Witzburg worked as a legal adviser to former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson from 2016 to 2020 before being appointed to lead the wing of Ferguson's office that oversees police reform — a post she held for 18 months.

    The city's top watchdog post has been vacant since Oct. 15, when Ferguson stepped down after 12 years in the role. Witzburg almost immediately resigned from her post as Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety, announcing that she was pursuing Ferguson's former job.

    Asked about the pick during an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, Lightfoot said she was "not going to get ahead of any announcement that may or may not be happening tomorrow."

    She is expected to officially announce her nomination of Witzburg on Thursday.

    Per city ordinance, Lightfoot and the City Council assembled a search committee to recommend a list of candidates, and Lightfoot made the final selection. Lightfoot appointed William Marback, a top staffer in the office, as interim inspector after Ferguson left.

    Witzburg worked as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office before joining Ferguson's office in 2016. She took over in May 2020 for Joseph Lipari, who stepped downafter filing an annual report that catalogued the inspector’s investigations of the police department in 2019 as well as the results of a “community survey” launched to help guide reform efforts.

    Ferguson announced last July that he would not seek a fourth four-year term as Inspector General after his term expired on Oct. 15. He was appointed to the post by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2009 and was reappointed in 2013 and 2017 by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel even though the two men often clashed. Ferguson helped oversee the final stages of court-mandated federal oversight on the mayor's office tied to a long-running lawsuit by anti-patronage attorney Michael Shakman. The Shakman probe into the mayor's office was lifted in 2014.

    Related: Ferguson to step down in October after 12 years as city’s top watchdog

    Ferguson intentionally left a three-month runway before his exit so that Lightfoot and the City Council could move through the legal process of choosing a successor who could take over immediately upon his departure. But Lightfoot and the council did not move to piece together a search committee to start the process until September. 

    Related: Loosened pot rules, IG search committee appointments clear City Council

    Lightfoot has since urged patience, saying the process needs time needs time to play out. The Sun-Times reported earlier this month that the committee had narrowed the field down to Witzburg and one other candidate.

    Witzburg did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

    Witzburg told aldermen during her June 2020 confirmation hearing as Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety that she was “well-positioned to maintain our forward momentum” to bring city residents on board with reform efforts as the city tries to prop up a new civilian oversight board.

    A graduate of Brown University and the Northwestern University School of Law, Witzburg worked as an assistant state's attorney under former Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez between 2010 and 2016. She presided over multiple significant reports during the year-and-a-half she served as Deputy Inspector General, including sweeping investigations into the Chicago Police Department's record-keeping practices and hiring diversity efforts.

    The City Council Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight has scheduled a meeting for April 13 to confirm Witzburg so she can get a final vote by the City Council during its April 27 meeting.

    Ald. Michele Smith (43), who chairs the ethics committee, did not respond to a request for comment on Lightfoot's nomination.

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