Search for Chicago’s next inspector general narrowed to two

The search for Chicago’s next inspector general comes down to two finalists: former IG Deputy for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg and an out-of-town candidate, sources said Wednesday.

The identity of the out-of-town candidate chosen by a five-member search committee was not known. Sources would only say it’s not a household name and Witzburg is the more experienced of the two.

How long it would take for an outsider to learn the ropes of Chicago politics and how embarrassed the new watchdog might be until he completes that crash course also weighs against the outsider candidate. from the city.

Over the years, mayoral appointees from outside Chicago have often been chewed up and spat out by the city’s unique politics.

The overriding question is whether Mayor Lori Lightfoot is willing to nominate Witzburg even though she was chosen and worked closely with former Inspector General Joe Ferguson, with whom the mayor has openly and repeatedly clashed. before his departure on October 15.

It’s also unclear whether Lightfoot’s determination to find a watchdog who, as she said, “understands the importance of staying in their lane” rules out Ferguson’s former second-in-command.

Under Ferguson and Witzburg’s direction, the Public Safety Section conducted a series of high-profile audits and reports highly critical of the Chicago Police Department and Lightfoot.

Those reports targeted everything from the error-filled gang database and slow compliance with a federal court consent decree to a ShotSpotter contract that Witzburg says rarely leads to investigative shutdowns. or evidence of crimes committed with firearms and can change the way officers interact with areas they are tasked to patrol.

Even more damning and embarrassing for the mayor was the inspector general’s searing criticism of the CPD’s handling of civil unrest that turned into two rounds of devastating looting after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Their report concluded that the CPD was “overwhelmed and unprepared” for the problems they should have anticipated and that rank-and-file officers were “indulged in high-stakes improvisation” without adequate supervision or guidance.

Before ending his 12-year run as Chicago’s top watchdog, Ferguson also delivered a 163-page report into the botched police raid that humiliated social worker Anjanette Young, who was handcuffed and naked for 40 minutes in a room full of male police officers. They had raided the wrong house by mistake.

Given this investigative history and Lightfoot’s defensiveness when criticized, it’s at least an open question whether the mayor would choose a new inspector general who might embarrass him as much as Ferguson.

Yet the mayor could also decide to shore up her progressive bona fides amid complaints that she hasn’t been as ‘transparent’ as promised when campaigning on a promise to ‘spill some light’ following the corruption scandal. swirling around charged Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

Witzburg would not comment on the research, or say if she was interviewed by Lightfoot.

Asked for comment, the mayor’s office released a statement:

“The Mayor appreciates the importance and independence of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in helping to improve the city by eliminating fraud, waste and abuse. As the Mayor has previously stated, we are working diligently to identify the best candidates, both locally and nationally, for the position of Inspector General. »

Aldus. Michele Smith (43rd), chair of the council’s government ethics and oversight committee, said the clash between Ferguson and Lightfoot was predictable and inevitable, even though they are old friends who worked together in office of the US Attorney.

“The Inspector General has a very wide range of work to do. Not just one lane. There is a natural tension — always — between the Inspector General and the people he [or she] investigation. And there are supposed to be,” Smith said Wednesday.

Lightfoot’s increasingly vocal criticism of Ferguson as a “pretty natural human reaction,” Smith said. “We’ve all been subjected to scrutiny from the press or scrutiny from the Inspector General and we don’t always think that’s fair. Well, that’s part of the job.

Asked if she was troubled by Lightfoot’s ‘stay in their lane’ warning, Smith said: ‘We’re all just trying to get the best Inspector General we can. I’m not going to cling to every word that every elected official says.

Smith said the selection process is “designed to take time” and includes procedures on what to do if the mayor rejects the first or subsequent group of finalists.

However, she still plans to partner with Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) on an order that would ‘speed up’ this process, acknowledging it ‘took too long’ and needs ‘a few more touchpoints to let City Council know things are happening’.

Brandon D. James