1969 Shakman case on political hiring nears end; cost city millions
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter May 15, 2014 12:51PM
Updated: June 17, 2014 2:28PM
Chicago will finally get out from under the constraints of the Shakman decree and a federal hiring monitor — after a hiring scandal that has cost taxpayers $22.9 million over the last decade.
Attorney Michael Shakman said Thursday the city has finally met the standards established by a court order to be released from federal oversight.
Barring last-minute wrinkles, the long-running case that began in 1969 could be dismissed June 16 after a 30-day notice period. The federal hiring monitor will be dismissed. That will leave the job of policing city hiring, firing and promotions to Inspector General Joe Ferguson or to Ferguson’s successor.
“The monitor will go away. It’s a combination of having rules and people to enforce the rules and having an attitude and a willingness to enforce the rules,” Shakman said.
Now that Shakman plaintiffs have filed their joint motion and Federal Hiring Monitor Noelle Brennan has added her “monitor opinion on substantial compliance,” all that is left is a hearing for a judge’s “finding of substantial compliance.”
“It’s a big city. There was a lot to do to get to this point. I’m glad the city has gotten to this point. I wish they had gotten here sooner. But I’m glad we’re here now,” Shakman said. “Credit goes to the [Emanuel] administration, Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, Inspector General Joe Ferguson and to the mayor for having people working for him to get to this point. It didn’t happen under Mayor Daley.”
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s former patronage chief, Daley’s former Streets and Sanitation commissioner and several others were convicted of rigging city hiring to benefit the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.
In 2005, Brennan was appointed by a federal judge furious with the city for making a mockery of the court decree that was supposed to remove politics from hiring and firing.
Since that time, Chicago taxpayers have spent $22.9 million. That includes the $12 million fund created to compensate victims of the city’s rigged hiring system; $6.6 million for the hiring monitor; $1.8 million for consultants; $1.5 million for plaintiff’s counsel and $1 million to outside counsel.
Asked why it took all these years, Brennan said in an emailed statement: “The scope of this project was immense. It impacted numerous individuals, some of whom had competing interests. For the process to work, it had to be a collaborative effort. We needed the City to fully buy into the idea that reform was in everyone’s best interests. It’s an investment in the city’s future.”
For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, getting out from under the Shakman decree is a huge accomplishment — both politically and financially.
The mayor had put aside his many differences with Ferguson — and reappointed the inspector general to another four-year term — with the unwritten understanding that Ferguson would see him through to the end of the Shakman era, then leave at the end of this summer.
On Thursday, Emanuel did not hesitate to claim credit for accomplishing something his predecessor and political mentor did not.
“Since the first day of my administration, we have made it a priority to take politics out of the hiring process, professionalize city government and end the decades of practices that were a stain on our city,” the mayor said in an emailed statement.
“We are turning a page on the past to a future where the public knows that the city has a transparent and accountable system in place to ensure that city jobs will go to the candidate who is most qualified, not the most connected. By working closely with Federal Hiring Monitor Noelle Brennan and Inspector General Joe Ferguson, we have and will continue taking the steps needed to ensure the city always has a hiring process that is fair, competitive, and accessible to all Chicago residents.”
One of the last impediments to lifting the court order was a demand by Brennan and Ferguson for Emanuel to punish those who testified under grants of immunity during the trial of Daley’s former patronage chief Robert Sorich.
Although none of those officials was ever charged, those who still work for the city should pay a price for their role in rigging hiring and promotions in favor of the politically-connected, Brennan and Ferguson said. They should not get off scot-free, they contended.
“That has now happened with the investigation of Sorich-era violators done by Noelle Brennan and city’s response to fire or discipline those involved. It’s a combination of having rules, people and an attitude and willingness to enforce the rules,” Shakman said.
“One of the interesting components is that the dispute between the inspector general and the mayor that went to the Illinois Supreme Court over access to privileged information has been resolved by this. The inspector general can ask — and the Law Department will be required — to give him any substantive information that relates to matters the IG is investigating on hiring and promotions. It’s pretty broad with respect to hiring employment oversight.”
After creating the $12 million compensation fund, Daley tried desperately get out from under decades of court oversight triggered by the Shakman decree banning political hiring and firing.
But he was not able to pull it off before leaving office on May 16, 2011. That forced Emanuel to pick up the pieces in hopes that the financial burden would be lifted — and the city could hire and promote employees without looking over its shoulder.”