Lightfoot Taps Former Public Safety Watchdog Deborah Witzburg as Inspector General

Mayor Lori Lightfoot picked the former No. 2 official in the Chicago inspector general’s office to serve as the city’s watchdog, five and a half months after former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson stepped down.

Lightfoot will ask the Chicago City Council to confirm Deborah Witzburg as the city’s inspector general. Witzburg resigned as Chicago’s deputy inspector general for public safety on Nov. 1, saying she would apply for the top job.

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“Deborah’s years of relevant experience and deep commitment to being a public servant make her a great fit for this role and I am confident in her ability to lead this important office,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “I look forward to working with her to make sure our residents have the accountable and transparent City government they deserve.”

At an unrelated news conference Thursday morning, Lightfoot praised Witzburg as the right person for the job and a “tough cookie.”

Lightfoot said the city’s inspector general must be independent and conduct thorough audits that improve the function of city government.

“The work needs to speak for itself,” Lightfoot said she told Witzburg. “I think she gets that.”

Lightfoot said the ordinance authorizing the inspector general’s authority needs some “tweaks” to “make it stronger and better.”

Witzburg said she was anxious to get to work.

“I’m a true believer in the work of [the Office of the Inspector General], and I’m committed to carrying it forward with independence and integrity,”  Witzburg said .  

Since the departure of Ferguson on Oct. 15, the office of the inspector general has been led on an interim basis by William Marback, who served as the deputy inspector general for investigations under Ferguson.

Several members of the Chicago City Council had expected Witzburg to replace Ferguson while a committee conducted a search for Ferguson’s permanent replacement and considered her the obvious choice to replace Ferguson.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward), the chair of the Ethics and Government Oversight Committee, praised Witzburg’s selection, saying it “ensures that the next inspector general will have the experience and commitment to reform we need to continue the important work of that office.”

Witzburg has conducted several high-profile audits and briefed City Council committees on their results, and urged the City Council to create a database of all complaints filed against Chicago Police officers. That effort remains in limbo.

The final audit conducted by Witzburg as deputy inspector general for public safety found that Chicago Police were more likely to stop Black Chicagoans than White Chicagoans and more likely to use force against them

A five-member search committee reviewed applications from those who wanted to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and malfeasance by city employees, contractors and vendors.

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.”

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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