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2 finalists are announced for county watchdog post

Thursday, June 26, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Nearly a year after the Cook County Board started to look for an independent investigator to find corruption, a federal prosecutor in Chicago and a deputy inspector general from the Los Angeles schools emerged Thursday as finalists for the job.

The two candidates, chosen by the Chicago and Cook County Bar Associations from a field of 328 applicants, are Joseph Ferguson, a deputy chief in the major case section of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, and Robert Williams, a deputy in the Los Angeles Unified School District inspector general's office.

Another, Terrence Hake, a special agent for the inspector general in the U.S. Justice Department, unexpectedly dropped out of contention.

That means the bar associations will go back and pick a third finalist to send to a county selection committee.

"It's taken too long, but at this point it needs to move forward so we can root out the chicanery we know exists," said Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who wrote the ordinance creating the independent inspector general's office.

Quigley first proposed the ordinance before County Board President
Todd Stroger was elected in late 2006. During his campaign, Stroger signed on to the idea, and the ordinance went into effect last July over the objections of some commissioners who opposed a provision allowing the inspector general to investigate them.

Finding the new anti-corruption sheriff is a long process, however. The three finalists will be considered by a panel that must include two Democratic and two Republican county commissioners, the state's attorney and the county Ethics Board director.

The selection committee will pick an inspector general, who then must be approved by the County Board.

To maintain the inspector general's independence, whoever is chosen will serve a six-year term and hire his or her own employees. A hot line also will be set up for complaints from the public and employees.

In this year's budget, commissioners increased staff in the office from five to 17, and boosted its annual funding from less than $400,000 to about $1 million.

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