The search for a new Chicago watchdog is “coming to a conclusion,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, acknowledging that the Office of the Inspector General has been without City Council-confirmed leadership for nearly five months.
In her first public remarks on the search for a replacement for former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, whose last day was Oct. 15, Lightfoot said the five-member search committee charged with reviewing applications from those who want to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and malfeasance by city employees, contractors and vendors was working diligently to recommend finalists for her consideration.
“We need to find the right leader for the inspector general’s office,” Lightfoot said. “The process is coming to a conclusion.”
At an unrelated news conference on Thursday, Lightfoot revealed that the search committee is being led by Margaret “Peggy” Daley, a former member of the Cook County Board of Ethics.
Daley was named to the search committee by Lightfoot, along with Rita Fry and Jose Tirado. Fry served on the Chicago Police Board and as the Cook County public defender and Tirado works in the cannabis industry and is a former Chicago Police Department official.
Walter Katz — who served as deputy chief of staff for public safety under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel — and Cara Hendrickson — who helped craft the consent decree that requires the Chicago Police Department to implement a series of reforms in her role as the head of the Public Interest Division in the Illinois attorney general’s office — were picked by Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward), the chair of the City Council’s Ethics Committee and confirmed by the City Council.
“They are hard at work,” Lightfoot said.
The committee has not solicited input from Chicagoans nor has it made any public statements.
Lightfoot said she hoped to have progress to announce in the search for a new inspector general “relatively soon.” Lightfoot’s pick must be confirmed by the Chicago City Council.
“This is a really important position, and it is important that we get it right and not interfere in the screening committee’s work,” Lightfoot said, adding that the committee has been doing a “terrific job.”
Lightfoot declined to reappoint Ferguson to serve a fourth term in office after the two repeatedly clashed over a number of issues, including efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department and the way the mayor and police leaders handled the protests and unrest triggered by the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
After Ferguson left office — blasting her and her administration as incompetent — Lightfoot told reporters the city’s next inspector general should be someone who “understands the importance of staying in their lane.”
Lightfoot said Thursday the office must be “independent.”
Chicago has also been without a deputy public safety inspector general since Nov. 1, when Deborah Witzburg resigned, telling Lightfoot she wanted the top job.
The role of the deputy inspector general for public safety was created as part of a package of reforms crafted by the Chicago City Council and Emanuel in the wake of the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. It was designed to ensure that officers guilty of misconduct were held accountable and that the Chicago Police Department did not violate the civil rights of Chicagoans.