Monitor: Mayor did good job reforming hiring — but not disciplining past violators
BY DAN MIHALOPOULOS Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 27, 2012 9:18PM
Noelle Brennan is the court-appointed monitor of City of Chicago hiring.
Updated: July 29, 2012 5:15PM
Despite praising Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration for reforming the city’s scandal-scarred personnel process, the court-appointed hiring monitor said Wednesday that the mayor seems unwilling to acknowledge or address patronage fraud she says city officials committed before he took office.
In her quarterly report filed in federal court Wednesday afternoon, monitor Noelle Brennan said the city has made “significant strides” toward reforming its personnel process, including the adoption of new hiring rules for the police and fire departments.
But Brennan added, “The city seems unwilling to acknowledge past hiring violations (notwithstanding the publicly available evidence) and engage in an objective process to address those violations.”
She said this approach could prevent the city from proving that it deserves to be free from court oversight of its personnel practices.
City Hall’s top lawyer responded to the monitor’s report by accentuating the positive.
“We appreciate the monitor recognizing that we have adopted new rules to professionalize the city’s hiring process and eliminate politics from the process,” Corporation Counsel Steve Patton said. “We are proud of the record we have established.”
Asked about Brennan’s allegations that the city has balked at dealing with alleged wrongdoing, Patton replied, “Where we differ is as to the past and how to handle investigations of wrongdoing that occurred seven or more years ago.”
Brennan declined comment Wednesday.
Brennan’s newly filed report was the latest and most detailed salvo in what was, until this week, a quietly simmering dispute between the monitor and Emanuel. They have clashed over the fate of “four current high-ranking employees” in the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The Sun-Times reported Monday that Brennan expressed frustration with the first-term mayor’s “combative” response to her recommendation that he punish the CDOT employees for alleged patronage abuses committed under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Emanuel fired back Tuesday, saying he took the monitor’s work seriously but that the city’s own investigation of the cases cited by Brennan “came to a different set of conclusions.”
In her report Wednesday, Brennan wrote that her concerns were “less about disciplining particular individuals and more about the city’s own commitment to the process.”
The corruption scandal broke seven years ago with a federal raid of Daley’s office. Soon after, the courts appointed Brennan to oversee city hiring. Since then, Brennan noted Wednesday, the culprits in the patronage fraud scheme either were criminally convicted — as in the case of Daley patronage chief Robert Sorich — or “have simply continued to work at their city jobs without consequence.”
Many had testified as prosecution witnesses at the federal trials of Sorich and ex-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez under grants of immunity. One such individual was Hugh Donlan, a city official who recently got a 90-day suspension for his role in the scandal.
Daley had balked at punishing Donlan and others in similar situations, ignoring calls for punishment from Brennan and Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. In April 2011, shortly before Emanuel took office and over Daley’s objection, the courts gave Brennan the right to investigate past abuses and recommend discipline.
After Brennan targeted the four CDOT officials, Emanuel administration officials hired an outside law firm, Mayer Brown, to conduct their own probe. They found further city documents that they say exonerated the accused CDOT officials.
Brennan responded Wednesday that the city had come to “a strained interpretation of the evidence.” After seeing the newly unearthed documents, Brennan recommended lighter punishments for three of the four CDOT officials she had singled out for discipline, concluding that a fourth was “the most culpable.” Still, she said, the Emanuel administration would not hand out any punishment.
None of the four have been named in court records. Recent federal court records in the case have been filed under seal, at the request of city lawyers who argued that employee disciplinary proceedings should be kept private.
Under the long-running fraud scheme, the hiring process was rigged to favor campaign workers loyal to Daley’s political organization. Top aides to the mayor directed armies of the patronage workers to help Daley’s endorsed campaigns, including Emanuel’s successful bid for Congress in the North Side’s 5th Congressional District in 2002, according to court testimony.
Emanuel has said he was unaware at the time that his campaign had benefitted from patronage workers.