Mayor Rahm Emanuel has reversed course and will reappoint Inspector General Joseph Ferguson as City Hall's top watchdog oversees a lengthy audit of work done by the mayor's former comptroller, who abruptly resigned amid a federal bribery probe related to a previous government job in Ohio.
The mayor's office confirmed Tuesday that Emanuel plans to reappoint Ferguson to a second four-year term. The decision comes after Emanuel earlier had suggested that Ferguson, who often criticizes the administration, would have to reapply for his job with his current term set to expire in November.
Emanuel aides maintain that Ferguson plans to serve only one more year, and in a statement, Ferguson suggested that's about right. But once the inspector general's appointment is approved by the City Council, the mayor would be at a loss to enforce a one-year limit if Ferguson decides there's reason to stick around.
The move to reappoint Ferguson, place a limit on his tenure and describe it as an agreement between the two amounts to a face-saver for Emanuel. The mayor had been criticized by city government observers and some aldermen for saying he would make Ferguson reapply, even though city code allows for Ferguson's direct reappointment without making him compete against other candidates. And critics suggested that Emanuel couldn't risk another ethics hit following the indictment of ex-Comptroller Amer Ahmad.
In separate statements, Emanuel and Ferguson each said the inspector general wants to finish his efforts to help put the city in full compliance with the federal court Shakman decree that bans political considerations from influencing most personnel decisions and implement a new city ethics ordinance.
But those are not the only things Ferguson, appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, would have left for his successor if Emanuel had appointed a new inspector general. Completion of an audit into what Ahmad did during his time City Hall isn't expected for "several months."
Emanuel has enlisted Ferguson, widely respected for his unvarnished independence, to help oversee the audit of Ahmad, who resigned his post in late July weeks before he was indicted in an alleged kickback scheme related to his tenure in the Ohio treasurer's office.
Emanuel was not available to answer questions Tuesday, but spokesman Tom Alexander said the mayor's efforts to work out something with Ferguson started more than a month before Ahmad's indictment.
"I don't think the two things are related at all," said Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, the mayor's floor leader. "It really sounds like the two of them sat down and agreed they had some common goals they wanted to realize, and they decided to reach those goals."
But critics, including Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, and Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, said the Ahmad probe likely influenced the decision to reappoint Ferguson. The aldermen also contended that the calls for Emanuel to reappoint Ferguson contributed to the decision.
"I think all of that coming together has put a lot of pressure on the mayor," Waguespack said, adding that the Ahmad probe may have been the tipping point. "After the comptroller, enough is enough. ... No more playing games with the IG."
Ferguson at times has given Emanuel fits, not least because he battled all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court in an unsuccessful effort to secure authority to enforce his subpoenas of administration documents. Ferguson also has challenged the mayor's justification for moneymaking red-light cameras, safeguards placed on the Chicago Infrastructure Trust and the city's claims of savings from shifting to a grid-based garbage collection system.
"I think people realize Joe Ferguson stands for integrity," Fioretti said, joining Waguespack and others in hoping Ferguson serves a full second term. "I would hope that a four-year appointment means a four-year appointment."
Twitter @ReporterHalCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun