Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday re-appointed Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee and accepted the resignation of his Budget Director Alex Holt.
The City Hall shuffle was in high-gear at a time when Emanuel is scrambling to finalize a plan to save the Chicago Public Schools without state help.
Holt, Emanuel’s only budget director, will be replaced by Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Samantha Fields, who has only been on the job for a few months. She will be replaced by Rosa Escareno, who served as a deputy press secretary under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“Alex has been an invaluable and thoughtful partner in reducing the City’s budget deficit, eliminating the bad financial practices of the past, putting our pension funds on the path to solvency and creating a strong, sustainable future for the City of Chicago,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a press release.
“I know that Samantha Fields will build on Alex’s record of results as Chicago continues on the path of fiscal reform. Likewise, Rosa Escareno has proven that she will be a strong advocate for Chicago’s consumers and small businesses.”
Ferguson’s term expires Oct. 16. Rhee’s term expires on July 24. Both re-appointments need City Council approval.
“Both Joe and Jamie are highly talented, dedicated civil servants who have committed themselves to making the City work better and more efficiently – particularly on the procurement task force that they co-chair,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.
“I am pleased to reappoint them both, and look forward to continuing to work with them as we continue to seek and enact reforms that will benefit the City.”
Ferguson could not be reached for comment. The press release quoted him as saying he was “gratified by the mayor’s vote of confidence” in his office.
“OIG is committed to promote effectiveness in City government, which now extends to police accountability,” Ferguson was quoted as saying.
“The creation of the office’s dedicated police oversight section demands OIG be even more committed to transparency and accountability that includes direct engagement with the public to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Chicago Police Department with the same vigor we apply to the programs and operations of the rest of city government.”
Rhee was quoted as saying she relishes the opportunity to bolster minority contracting at a time when the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucuses are turning up the political heat.
“We have a responsibility to address the needs of our underserved populations and communities and every facet of government can contribute to this positive change. Chicago will reach its full potential when its diverse population is represented at all levels,” she was quoted as saying.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Ferguson’s appointment of Laura Kunard as deputy inspector general for public safety was likely to result in Ferguson’s reappointment.
That’s because Kunard wanted and received assurances that the man who hired her would not be departing in a few months.
“The term of the deputy inspector general for public safety is tied to the inspector general’s term. So in the absence of there being renewal, we’re all having a conversation today for a position that lasts only five or six months,” Ferguson said before testifying at Kunard’s confirmation hearing.
But Ferguson also took it a step further. He argued that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to review and retreat from police reform agreements nationwide leaves a giant void that must be filled locally by the new, 25-employee, $1.8 million unit housed in his office.
“The Justice Department is not gonna be part of it. … The absence of the Justice Department means that the city really needs to own this fully. And one of the key mechanisms that’s evolved in this whole field over the last 25 years is an inspector general function,” Ferguson said.
“I’m very anxious to get our shop up and running because I do think it would be a force amplifier and a driver.”
Emanuel subsequently told reporters he was open to reappointing Ferguson because, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” But, he wanted to meet with him first. That face-to-face meeting took place in the mayor’s office two weeks ago.
Ferguson spent two years in a cold war with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which included a legal battle over access to documents that went all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Their relationship was so frosty it appeared that Emanuel was counting the days until Ferguson’s term expired. It was only after the Ohio bribery scandal that culminated in the conviction of former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad that Emanuel seemed to realize Ferguson was more helpful than threatening.
In 2013, Emanuel reappointed Ferguson with the unwritten understanding that the IG would step down after a year. Eight months later, Ferguson decided to serve out his new four-year term after dramatically improving his once-contentious relationship with the mayor.
When a federal judge released Chicago from the Shakman decree and dismissed a federal hiring monitor, Ferguson assumed the all-important power to police city hiring in the post-Shakman era. He also won limited oversight over the City Council after the legislative IG’s office was disbanded.
A former federal prosecutor, Ferguson was appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2013.
Although his investigative power base has expanded greatly as his relationship with Emanuel improved, he has shown no signs of slowing down or backing off.
Last month, he dared to suggest that Chicago aldermen be stripped of their cherished control over infrastructure projects in their wards in favor of professional engineers in the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Emanuel promptly shot down the recommendation that would be like declaring war on a City Council that has walked the tax plank twice to solve Chicago’s $30 billion pension crisis and whose support the mayor needs going forward to save the Chicago Public Schools.
“Everybody who’s never actually worked in government said, ‘Let’s get rid…of earmarks. And ever since you got rid of earmarks, congress has become totally, 100 percent dysfunctional,” Emanuel, who served as former President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff, said then.
“If you sit around and walk around with a glass of white wine, you can say, ‘This is what the perfect world is.’ I want residents to give those ideas. I want residents to give ideas to their alderman to reflect that view. And I want residents input into neighborhood improvements. The worst thing you could do is cut off residents and have that be driven by downtown. Anybody who’s ever recommended it hasn’t been around [long enough to understand how the process works from the ground up. This is actually a ground up set of suggestions.”