Inspector General’s Statement Regarding Ferguson v. Patton Ruling

Inspector General Joseph M. Ferguson released the following statement after reviewing the March 21, 2013 Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Ferguson v. Patton:

Today, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the OIG does not have the statutory authority to enforce its own subpoenas. The Court’s opinion requires the OIG to go to the City’s Corporation Counsel to enforce its subpoenas. When the Corporation Counsel chooses not to, or has a conflict of interest, as the Court found to be the case here, the OIG’s only recourse is to appeal to the Mayor, even when the investigation involves or is directed at the Office of the Mayor.

The Court’s ruling has provided clarity around an integral legal question concerning the operation and authority of the City’s Office of Inspector General. The ruling provides stark reminder that the City of Chicago does not have a structurally independent Inspector General. In addition to the prohibitions on enforcing subpoenas, the office’s budget is not protected. Its ability to fill staff vacancies must be approved by City Hall. It cannot allocate or re-allocate appropriated funds without going through a laborious series of City Hall checks and sign-offs first. In conducting inquiries and investigations into misconduct, fraud, waste, and inefficiency in City government, it is supposed to have access to all City records. With today’s ruling, the public and the City Council should now know that the OIG has access only to the records and materials the Mayor and his Corporation Counsel wishes to make available, when they decide to make them available.

This office does not seek special authority or treatment. The OIG ordinance is a promise by the City to ensure effective government oversight, and this office seeks only the baseline standards and authority for that to occur. The elected officials of this City and the public they serve need not look far to find that standard. It operates everywhere across the federal government, where it has been long settled that, among other things, an inspector general must have complete access to documents and records under its jurisdiction and the power to enforce its own subpoenas. But not in Chicago – not in this office, nor the Legislative Inspector General’s Office, nor the IGs for any of the so-called sister agencies, including the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, the Public Building Commission, and City Colleges.

As a candidate, Mayor Emanuel pledged comprehensive ethics reform which included specific structural reforms respecting the power, authority, and independence of this office. Today’s Supreme Court ruling made it clear that such reforms can only come about in the form of action by the City Council. In my capacity as Inspector General, I now ask the Mayor to introduce and support an ordinance that would codify the pledges he made as a candidate.

At a minimum, I ask that:

  1. The Mayor protect the OIG budget from political pressure by setting it at no less than 0.1 percent of the overall City budget, and ensure the Inspector General have full discretion over how to use that money;
  2. the Mayor ensure unrestricted OIG access to all City documents and records; and,
  3. the Mayor ensure the OIG’s ability to enforce its own subpoenas.

Finally, I formally ask that the Mayor to direct the Corporation Counsel to comply with the OIG’s subpoena in the underlying investigation of this case. In doing so, I ask that he consider the Court’s finding that the Corporation Counsel has a conflict of interest in the case.

In the meantime, Chicago residents and taxpayers need to know this office’s jurisdictional limitations and what that can mean for our operations, be they investigations, audits, or oversight of the City’s employment practices governed by the Shakman accords. They deserve better.