The City Council is open to abiding by a “do not hire” list of public employees fired for misconduct, but only after learning precisely what it takes to get on that list, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader said Wednesday.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) said aldermen are being unfairly portrayed as being dragged kicking and screaming into a post-Shakman era when the issue of the do-not-hire list has “never been presented” to the City Council.
In her final report to a federal judge, now-dismissed federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan complained: “Despite numerous recommendations and letters sent to the City Council by this office, the City Council has not agreed to honor the Ineligible to Rehire list.”
Despite that complaint, a federal judge agreed this week to release Chicago from the 42-year-old Shakman decree and dismissed Brennan, who had no oversight over the City Council.
“This whole report is just being made up out of whole cloth. For some to make the suggestion that we’re not willing to do that—nobody’s ever asked us to do anything,” O’Connor said. “We’re a convenient target. Often, we do things that make it easy. But in this case, it wasn’t an issue until we read about it in the newspaper.”
The do-not-hire list contains former employees from the city and other agencies of local government who have either been fired for misconduct or left their government jobs to avoid allegations subsequently deemed credible.
“I don’t have any problem with it. But, I’d like to understand it. I’d like to know that they’ve been afforded some kind of due process so they have an opportunity not to make that list,” he said.
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) argued that only employees who have “stolen from the city” should be on the list.
“A lot of times, people are terminated for minor incidents. They’re convicted of what? That’s only by investigation of the inspector general. Now, you’ve got an X on your back. That’s awful,” she said.
Other aldermen questioned Wednesday were equally miffed about being portrayed as resistant to reform eight months before the aldermanic election.
“I was reading in the paper that the City Council is against this. I’m like, `Who did they talk to?’ . . . No one has asked me. But, if they did ask me, I would not hire from the do-not-hire list. That makes sense,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) agreed. “If you want the truth, you need to talk to the people who are in the trenches making things happen — and nobody has talked to us. So, I think [the criticism] is unfair,” Beale said.
Brennan responded to the aldermen by emailing the Sun-Times a copy of a letter she sent to then-Human Relations Committee Chairman Helen Shiller (46th) in 2010.
In the letter, Brennan made the case for aldermen to abide by the do-not-hire list and urged them to close that legal loophole. It’s not known whether Shiller or then-Vice Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) relayed the
monitor’s request to their City Council colleagues.
Ald. Will Burns (4th) said he’s more than willing to abide by the do-not-hire list.
“I don’t know why I would take the political hit for hiring somebody who the city has said should not be hired. It doesn’t seem to me to be worth it,” he said.
But Burns said that doesn’t mean he’s willing to go along with Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan’s demand for the power oversee City Council hiring that includes 200 full-time jobs with a $14.6 million-a-year payroll and up to $4.85 million-a-year in part-time help.
“I have concerns, given the fact that there are people on Faisal Khan’s staff who are involved in investigating aldermen, who participate in political campaigns. That seems to me to be a conflict-of-interest and not exactly the best judgment on the part of the [legislative] inspector general,” Burns said.
Burns was referring to Khan allowing his chief of staff, Kelly Tarrant, to take a 10-week leave of absence to work on Eddie Winters’ campaign for the Illinois House of Representatives.
Tarrant has told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos that her temporary return to the political arena gave her “the opportunity to sharpen my knives, so to speak” for the investigative work ahead.
Austin still hasn’t gotten over a 2012 demand from Khan that she defied — for time sheets for all full- and part-time City Council employees dating back to November, 2010. She’s not about to give him oversight over city hiring.
“I will never agree to that. . . . I need the person that’s gonna be there that’s gonna watch my back in the committee that I’m in or whatever I’m doing. I don’t need him to pick anybody for me. No. I’ll never agree to that,” Austin said.
In an emailed statement, an aide to Khan said the legislative IG is seeking more money and manpower because his office is “understaffed and underfunded.”
“Our budget, 100% controlled by city council, the body we oversee, is in the lowest few of city agencies. In order to complete this agency’s mandate in a more efficient and professional manner, our budget must be at levels comparable to other similar agencies,” the statement said.
As for the hiring oversight, the statement said Khan “seeks oversight powers identical to those of the City IG. There currently is a double standard in this city – one for Aldermen, and one for their remainder colleagues in city government. The fact that there are two distinct laws on the books is the clearest evidence of this.” He was referring to the ordinances empowering the city’s inspector general and the City Council’s watchdog.
“Every opportunity to either improve the ethics ordinance or increase the powers of the OLIG has been met with unanimous council resistance. This is most curious since a number of aldermen have publicly pushed for greater oversight, independent status, and increased resources for the City IG’s office, an office that has no oversight over them. But, when it has come to reciprocity for the OLIG, they balk at the idea. This has to stop,” the statement said.