Aldermen embrace do-not-hire list in post-Shakman era

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Chicago aldermen on Tuesday charged head-first into the post-Shakman era — by following a federal hiring monitor’s recommendation to abide by a “do not hire” list of public employees fired for misconduct.

“This is correcting maybe a loophole in the system. … I can’t think of anybody who would defend hiring somebody who’d been put on a list that’s do-not-hire because of past deeds,” said Ald. John Arena (45th).

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, denied that aldermen were embracing the reform simply because the aldermanic election is seven months away.

“If we were concerned about [ending] this type of hiring, we could have let the thing die and it never would have been brought up again. There’s no federal monitor around to do it,” O’Connor said.

“It didn’t take a nudge from the federal monitor. … This basically is just the City Council continuing to make strides in an area where people would like to see us go.”

In her final report to a federal judge, now-dismissed federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan complained about the City Council’s failure to abide by the list “despite numerous recommendations and letters” that her office had sent to individual aldermen in leadership positions.

Despite that complaint, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier agreed June 16 to release Chicago from the 42-year-old Shakman decree and dismissed Brennan, who had no oversight over the City Council.

Last month, O’Connor introduced a do-not-hire resolution co-sponsored by 41 of his 49 colleagues.

On Tuesday, the O’Connor-chaired Committee on Workforce Development approved it with an accompanying City Council “order” that has the force of law.

It requires the city’s budget director, human resources commissioner and city comptroller to “jointly develop, implement and maintain a mandatory process” to cross-check applicants for jobs with aldermen, City Council committees or service agencies against the do-not-hire list and inform aldermen of the results.

The order further requires the Emanuel administration to update the list on a quarterly basis and provide the City Council with a “true and accurate” copy. The current list is roughly seven pages long and divided into two categories: employees disqualified for one year and those who are permanently banned.

“The order is the traditional means by which the City Council issues directives to the administration to carry out duties within their ordinance powers. And thus, this order creates the necessary mandatoriness, obligatory nature for the do-not-hire compliance to actually be effective,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine told aldermen.

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) demanded to know how an employee unfairly placed on the do-not-hire list can get off.

“There have been incidents where individuals were unjustly placed on the do-not-hire [list] and it’s taken some time in order to go through that appeal process, and they have not found gainful employment, but they were found not guilty,” Austin said.

“The appeal process — I don’t want say it’s flawed — but it would take such a long time. It should be a shorter distance. … When you put them on the do-not-hire list, it’s almost like they’re tainted. You were accused and, even though you may have proven you’re not guilty, you still carry around that stigma. We should be a little bit more cautious about people that we place on the do-not-hire list and how egregious does this [conduct] have to be.”

In an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times after Tuesday’s vote, Brennan wrote, “I am pleased to hear that they’ve come around. Whatever their motivation is, it’s a step in the right direction.”

O’Connor countered that the City Council has been unfairly portrayed as being dragged kicking and screaming into the post-Shakman era.

“The federal monitor, in the closing report in a throw-away line, indicated that we, as a body, had resisted this change. … I’ve never heard from the federal monitor. If the effort were to try and get the City Council involved, we all have mailboxes here. We all have fax machines and e-mails. A more honest attempt to try and get us in compliance would have been made,” he said.

“Her lack of making it a priority kind of tells you how little impact this really will have and does have. But, to the extent that it closes another loop for the Shakman-type, traditional problems, we’re happy to be part of that.”

Emanuel released a statement praising aldermen for the move.

“Today, aldermen took another positive step toward reforming City Council’s hiring practices, and soon they will be held to the same standards as the rest of the City, ensuring that hiring is based on what you know, not who you know,” the mayor said.

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