Inspector General Joseph Ferguson will quit his post as city watchdog in October after encountering a brick wall of opposition from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago City Council during the last 18 months of his tenure .
First appointed by former mayor Richard M. Daley in 2009, Ferguson was reappointed twice by former mayor Rahm Emanuel and saw the power of his office expand considerably following the murder by police in 2014 of Laquan McDonald, 17, who sparked efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department.
Ferguson frequently clashed with Emanuel, even as the Inspector General extricated Chicago from the long-standing legal conflict over political hiring and firing known as the Shakman Executive Order.
Ferguson and his office declined a request for an interview from WTTW News about his impending departure, with his office spokesperson saying he planned to release new reports every week in July and possibly during the summer. In a letter announcing his decision to step down, Ferguson urges city council and the mayor to immediately begin the search for his replacement “to ensure sufficient time for an orderly transition and continuity of operations whose independence meets national standards “.
Lightfoot thanked Ferguson on Friday for his service in Chicago. In October, the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times that she was unlikely to appoint Ferguson for a fourth four-year term.
“I think Joe Ferguson has done a tremendous job in his 12 years as Inspector General, and I appreciate his decision to move on,” Lightfoot said after a special city council meeting focused on criminality.
When Lightfoot took office in May 2019, many questions revolving around Ferguson centered on whether he would be sufficiently independent from the mayor, a longtime friend who recommended his selection to Daley after the two served together. as federal prosecutors in the Chicago United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.
The two friends appeared to be natural allies, as Lightfoot was committed to eliminating corruption at Town Hall and cracking down on aldermen using their public office for private gain during the 2019 mayoral campaign and Ferguson had long been praised for its efforts to fight against political abuses.
The first major bill signed by Lightfoot – passed 50-0 by city council – expanded the inspector general’s power to audit city council committees, threatening the financial benefits long enjoyed by the most powerful members of Chicago City Council. .
Lightfoot also pushed through a proposal that allowed the best lawyer in town to release investigative reports from the Inspector General’s office when they involved death or crime.
But Lightfoot and Ferguson quickly found themselves at odds on several issues, most focusing on the city’s belated efforts to reorganize the police department in the wake of McDonald’s murder and a Justice Department investigation that resulted in revealed that Chicago police officers routinely violate the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos in Chicago.
That investigation resulted in a federal court order requiring the department to change its operations, but the city missed nearly 40 percent of the deadlines included in that deal.
The first sign of tension between the two friends came when Lightfoot publicly criticized the time it took Ferugson to complete his investigation into what happened before – and after – the former Chicago Police Superintendent. , Eddie Johnson, was discovered asleep in his moving car after a night of drinking.
That tension – which simmered for months – boiled over in February, when Ferguson released a dazzling report that found the Chicago Police Department botched almost every aspect of its response to the protests and unrest sparked by the death. by George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
The failure, which Ferguson laid at the feet of Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, undermined efforts to restore community confidence in the department, according to his report.
Lightfoot bristled at the criticism, saying Ferguson’s report was based on outdated information and “did not give the department a chance to respond”, even though Brown’s response was included in the audit. ‘Inspector General.
However, the most high-profile clash came in April when Ferguson urged city council members to create a database of Chicago police misconduct records in order to win back the trust of Chicagoans by being transparent. on the wrongdoing of officers.
At first, Lightfoot hesitated with the proposal, calling it too expensive and unnecessary. When Lightfoot supported a compromise negotiated by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), Ferguson hammered the plan as insufficient.
This proposal did not result in a full Chicago City Council vote and remains in limbo.
Additionally, Ferguson has been investigating for nearly six months the botched February 2019 raid that left Anjanette Young handcuffed while naked and begging for help. Ferguson said the investigation would focus on “possible misconduct” on the part of city officials, including those in the mayor’s office. It is not known when this investigation will be completed.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [emailÂ protected]