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City earned freedom from Shakman — now it must earn our trust

It couldn’t go on forever.

I’ve been reminding myself of that for several years now as Michael Shakman, two successive mayoral administrations and a federal judge crept ever closer to closing the books on court oversight over the city’s hiring practices.

After the big announcement Thursday that Shakman was ready to declare final victory in the historic legal battle he started in 1969, somebody asked me if the city could now be trusted to properly conduct hiring without returning to the days of patronage.

The obvious answer is no. It can’t.

After all, it was just a day earlier that a former patronage hack was arrested for what’s alleged to be one of the great fixes in city history—steering the red light-camera contract to a company for what prosecutors say were hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

John Bills was just three years removed from a job as a deputy managing commissioner and hardly the last remnant of the system Shakman sought to eradicate.

There always will be a pull toward more political influence in government hiring in Chicago. It’s the natural order of things, a century in the making, and not to be undone in any mayor’s four-year term.

The last time we trusted the city to follow the federally-imposed hiring rules we got lulled to sleep and ended up with egg on our collective face — and a round of federal indictments in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration that took down his patronage chief.

But no matter what misgivings any of us may have, at some point it only makes sense to get rid of the costly expense of the outside monitor and to allow the city to prove that it can operate an honest hiring and firing operation on its own.

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