CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, and his staff of more than 100 employees are tasked with being the city’s independent watchdog.
CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes a rare look inside the office dedicated to rooting out corruption and waste in city government. Ferguson gave CBS 2 a rare peek at what he calls “mission ops” inside his headquarters at 740 N. Sedgwick St.
“It pretty much looks like a newsroom,” he said.
At any given time, Ferguson’s office has approximately 200 open investigations, and 20 active audits.
“We have investigators with various backgrounds,” he said. “We’re looking at economy, effectiveness, efficiency; how well money is being spent.”
Cameras weren’t allowed to show a lot of the operations at Ferguson’s office, including his data analytics, because so much of the work is confidential.
So what’s under the microscope?
“Where you have money and power coming together in a place,” Ferguson said.
It’s not just fraud or wrongdoing.
“We also can look and examine what it is that made it possible in the first place,” Ferguson said.
That means audits; digging through city records.
One recently published report from Ferguson’s office scrutinized the Chicago Police Department’s gang database, calling for an entire revamp after the discovery of misinformation and disorganization among the 120,000 names in its system.
Another impactful investigation slammed Chicago’s red light cameras and helped send people getting kickbacks behind bars.
However, some areas of city government remain beyond Ferguson’s reach.
The Chicago Housing Authority, CTA, Chicago Public Schools, and Chicago Park District have their own inspectors general. Occasionally, the bad apples found by Ferguson end up in one of those other city agencies.
“Then everybody says ‘What’s going on here?’ And they should say what’s going on here? Part of that is because we’re compartmentalized. We need to figure out ways to overcome that to really step up overall transparency, accountability, and efficiency,” Ferguson said.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on the idea of consolidating inspector general’s offices across city government. On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved a measure that would expand Ferguson’s authority, by giving him the power to audit City Council committees.
The mayor’s ethics package approved Wednesday also would increase fines for lobbying violations, and place limitations on where aldermen can work outside their government jobs.
The mayor also wants to give thousands of Chicago motorists relief from ticket debt.
She is proposing reforms that would end the practice of issuing multiple tickets in one day or on consecutive days for not displaying a city vehicle sticker. Late fees for purchasing vehicle stickers also would be capped at $200.
Lightfoot’s plan also would halt the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-moving violations.
The mayor said ticket debt mostly affects minority communities, and often helps push low-income drivers into bankruptcy.