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1969 Shakman political hiring case nearing close

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 on 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.

Former Inspector General David Hoffman was hired by Daley when the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals were going full-bore, only to encounter resistance from the mayor’s office at virtually every turn.

On Thursday, Hoffman, a mayoral appointee to Emanuel’s Infrastructure Trust, credited the mayor with achieving something Daley couldn’t.

“For years, the city was not making much progress on this. That they’ve now made so much progress that the monitor and Michael Shakman agree this kind of oversight isn’t required anymore is a huge accomplishment,” Hoffman said.

Under Daley, Hoffman said he “never saw a true commitment to take the steps that were going to be necessary to show the court and the monitor that the city was serious about taking politics out” of employment decisions.

One of the “biggest moves” Emanuel made to turn that around was the promotion of Soo Choi as Human Resources commissioner, said Hoffman, who hired Choi to work under him in the inspector general’s office.

“The idea of hiring someone from the IG’s office to run such a critical function for the city would have been a non-starter in the past,” Hoffman said.

“To satisfy the court and the monitor, you needed to make hard moves like bringing in a new kind of person to head the HR department. That was a very big move. What we’re seeing now is a true commitment to do what’s necessary to take politics out of employment actions.”

For years, Chicago aldermen chafed at the federal hiring constraints and railed at the monitor for making a multimillion-dollar-a-year career out of watching over the city.

They frequently complained about their inability to call a department head and recommend a job seeker without being reported to the monitor.

Shakman’s 1969 lawsuit triggered the decree that bears his name.

He said Thursday it took a lot to put in place “procedures that have a reasonably good chance of preventing” political hiring in a city where “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

“You’ve got to have a bunch of things — written plans that provide for no political hiring and no political decisions. You need training materials and use them to train people to make them understand there’s no political hiring. You have to have a Department of Human Resources with an adequate staff that’s going to administer the hiring and promotion system,” he said.

“And above all, you need to have an internal policing mechanism — in this case, the inspector general — so that, when people have broken the rules, the city has to punish them.”

For Emanuel, the political boost from getting out from under the Shakman decree could not come at a more opportune time.

The mayor is reeling from a Chicago Sun-Times poll that shows he has only 29 percent support from likely voters and 8 percent among African-Americans who helped put him in office and that only one in five of those polled credit him with doing a better job running the city than Daley did.

“When you couple this with the ethics reforms introduced two years ago, Emanuel can actually claim that he has transcended the old machine days of patronage hiring and curbed a considerable amount of corruption in the city, although not all of it,” said former independent Ald. Dick Simpson (44th), a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“There is progress in comparison to the Sorich case, which showed the [Daley] administration fully involved in patronage hiring. It will help with voters on the lakefront. It still doesn’t erase the problem of high crime in minority communities, school closings or the mayor’s general arrogance which turns some people off. But he’ll get some small jump in support and it does take away one key campaign issue people could use in running against him.”

Joint motion for end of federal hiring monitor for city