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City Hall hiring monitor blasts mayor for balking on punishments

Court-appointed City Hall hiring monitor Noelle Brennan news conference December 2005.  |  Sun-Times file photo

Court-appointed City Hall hiring monitor Noelle Brennan at a news conference in December 2005. | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: July 26, 2012 6:08AM

Th e City Hall hiring scandal was former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s mess, but now some of it’s spilling onto Mayor Rahm Emanuel, too.

Emanuel is under fire from Noelle Brennan, the court-appointed City Hall hiring monitor. She’s blasting his administration for its “combative” response to her suggestions it should discipline city officials accused of taking part in fraudulent patronage hiring under Daley.

Shortly before Emanuel took office last year, a federal judge gave Brennan the authority to investigate — and recommend punishment for — city officials who had a role in the illegal patronage hiring and promotion scheme that fueled Daley’s political machine. Brennan had sought those powers after Daley rejected her calls to punish aides who were implicated — though not criminally charged — in the hiring scandal.

But Brennan and Emanuel also have tangled over what should be done with those officials.

In court filings, Brennan says she recommended disciplinary action be taken against “four current high-ranking employees” in the Chicago Department of Transportation. She says she also called on Emanuel to place a retired transportation department official on the city’s list of people who are ineligible to be rehired.

Brennan says the Emanuel administration has rejected her advice “for the most part,” instead hiring outside lawyers to conduct a “re-investigation” of the accusations that she leveled.

“Whereas the monitor’s office hoped to complete these investigations through a collaborative approach, the city’s approach is more akin to litigation,” she says in a written report to Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier. “Although the city need not agree with the monitor’s discipline recommendations, it similarly need not approach the process in such a combative mode.”

In their response, Emanuel’s City Hall lawyers told Schenkier that they have “carefully reviewed the allegations.” According to Emanuel’s corporation counsel, Steven Patton, the city’s own investigation turned up several hundred pages of documents that “rendered the monitor’s initial charges demonstrably incorrect. If not for the city’s diligent inquiry, these important records might not have been discovered, and the employees in question would have faced disciplinary measures based on an incomplete review of the evidence.”

Brennan and city officials won’t comment on the dispute, citing Schenkier’s recent order that new court documents in the case be placed under seal. Brennan objected, but city lawyers argued that filing those documents publicly would reveal employee discliplinary issues that should remain confidential.

In court papers, Patton says the Emanuel administration takes the misconduct accusations leveled by the monitor seriously but has to balance them with “its due-process obligations to its employees.” Brennan says in her written response that she modified her initial recommendations after the city produced the new documents.

Brennan was appointed hiring monitor in 2005, shortly after federal agents raided City Hall. They built a case that Daley administration officials rigged city hiring and promotions of behalf of city employees who did campaign work for the then-mayor’s preferred candidates — among them Emanuel during his 2002 run for Congress.

The “massive fraud” in city hiring was designed to get around the longstanding Shakman court decree barring city officials in most cases from basing personnel decisions on political ties. The decree came in reponse to a lawsuit filed in 1969 by lawyer Michael Shakman.

While the federal probe led to the convictions of Daley aides including his longtime patronage chief Robert Sorich and former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez, others whose names surfaced in the corruption trials weren’t charged with any crime. Some testified under grants of immunity from federal prosecution.

Still, the city could discipline those employees. And it should, according to Shakman, who says he’s disappointed by Emanuel’s actions.

“The administration doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to deal with the bad actors from the previous administration,” Shakman says. “I hoped they would respond more favorably to [Brennan’s] recommendations.”

Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Emanuel administration gave a 90-day suspension to Hugh Donlan, a city official who testified under oath that he helped rig hiring for job applicants tied to the old Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley political groups. City officials said they did so under pressure from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

Ferguson says it’s important to appropriately punish “historical figures” in the patronage scandal who still work for the city to “ensure there is disincentive for reverting to the ways of the past.”

Since 2010, his office has worked to ensure that city personnel practices are based on merit rather than clout — an effort Ferguson says remains “very much a work in progress.”

“The new administration has worked very diligently, but additional time is needed to exhibit a track record,” Ferguson said.

The courts will decide how long city hiring remains under the monitor’s juridstiction.

So far, Brennan has been paid $5.8 million for her work as hiring monitor, $587,000 of that since Emanuel took office in May 2011, city records show.

The city’s investigation into Brennan’s allegations involving the transportation department was done by the law firm Mayer Brown. It cost taxpayers $148,000.

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