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Dorothy Brown’s office to get federal monitor for hiring practices

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Embattled Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown will now have a federally appointed monitor in her office to make sure she complies with fair hiring practices.

The decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier came last week, although it will be finalized in August.

The monitor, Clifford Meacham, is a retired circuit court judge who was appointed in previous cases with the county’s Sheriff and Assessor’s offices.

He’ll be tasked with making sure Brown’s office complies with the Shakman decree, which prohibit patronage hiring practices.

Meacham will do an audit of hiring practices and, if there’s any evidence of patronage, write up a report. Those who have been wronged by non-compliant practices will be able to file a supplemental relief order.

Michael Shakman, who filed the landmark lawsuit that culminated in the federal consent decree that bears his name, said the goal would be to create “road map” to better hiring practices.

“Monitors have provided a mechanism for that office and others to make them comply with the law and make sure they’re not hiring and firing politically,” Shakman said. “He’ll help create an employment plan and internal monitoring practices that will eliminate any patronage.

Brown’s office has been under federal investigation for its pay-to-play hiring practices and other political wheeling and dealing. Earlier this year, authorities brought charges against two former employees for buying a job and lying to a grand jury.

The federal court order imposing Shakman oversight over the Circuit Court clerk’s office is yet another political blow to Brown’s stealth campaign for mayor.

Brown has not been seen or heard from in the mainstream news media since she entered the crowded mayoral race in mid-April, ignoring the federal corruption investigation that has been swirling around her and her office for years.

Political pundits could not understand why Brown was running for mayor instead of running for cover in the midst of the ongoing federal grand jury investigation into alleged job and promotion-selling in her office.

They speculated that Brown was either using a mayoral campaign to raise money for her legal defense or that she may have entered the race to help embattled incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel by dividing the African-American vote and siphoning votes away from former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.

Like millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, Brown has a strong, grassroots, church-based constituency that might be turned off by Lightfoot’s status as a self-declared “triple-threat” because she is an African-American woman who is the only openly gay candidate in the race.

Brown’s political committee, Friends of Dorothy Brown, reported a balance of $4,093 as of March 31. Money donated to that fund could be used for legal expenses.

Once federal hiring oversight is imposed, it’s not so easy to get out of it.

It took Chicago a decade to get out from under the costly constraints of the Shakman decree and a federal hiring monitor after a hiring scandal that cost taxpayers $22.9 million over the previous decade.

In 2005, Noelle 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.

From then until Chicago was released from the obligation in 2014, Chicago taxpayers spent: $12 million 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 then why it took all these years, Brennan said, “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 Emanuel, getting out from under the Shakman decree was a huge accomplishment – both politically and financially. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley chafed at the federal hiring constraints but never managed to convince a federal judge the city could be trusted to police itself.

Brown could not be reached for comment.