After getting arrested for driving a stolen U-Haul truck on his own time, Kevin M. Austin was fired from his job as a laborer with the city of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation.
That landed Austin on City Hall’s “do-not-hire” list, a roster of 492 crooked alderman, bribe-taking bureaucrats and other public servants whose misdeeds cost them their jobs.
Austin went on the list effective Nov. 17, 2006, the date he was fired. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration rehired Austin on Dec. 4, 2012, as a truck driver for Streets and San — a $63,777-a-year job he was fired from on July 24, after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found he was working for the city despite having been on the “do-not-hire” list for years.
“When I applied for the job, I put it down that I got fired from the city,” says Austin, 43. “I didn’t even know nothing about the ‘do-not-hire’ list until a couple of weeks ago.
“Why did it take over a year and a half for them to come back at me on this?”
Austin was one of four people the Sun-Times found who were collecting paychecks from City Hall years after officials decided they should never work for the city again. The others are:
- Arthur B. Jones, a Streets and San truck driver who was fired Dec. 31, 2008 — city officials won’t say why. Jones was rehired last Nov. 8 as a truck driver for Streets and San, where he was making $56,326. City Hall has moved to fire him, too.
- Thomas J. Sadzak, a Streets and San laborer who “resigned in lieu of discharge” on Oct. 5, 2005, again for reasons the city won’t discuss. Sadzak has been back on the city payroll since Nov. 17, 2008. He makes $57,048 a year as an assistant to Ald. John Pope (10th).
- Jesse Smart Jr., who resigned March 28, 2007, as a Streets and San assistant superintendent to avoid being fired over sexual harassment allegations. Three months later, he was back on the city payroll. He makes $51,696 as an assistant to Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).
Besides moving to fire Austin and Jones, the Sun-Times’ findings also prompted Emanuel’s staff to comb the payroll for other city employees “to ensure no other names had been overlooked,” mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn says. “And we have now put reforms into place that will ensure ineligible former employees do not get rehired.”
But Sadzak and Smart are likely to stay on the city payroll. That’s because they are aldermanic staffers. Members of the City Council had long refused to abide by the “do-not-hire” list maintained by the mayor’s Department of Human Resources. That changed last week, when Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), convinced his colleagues to adhere to the “do-not-hire” list.
The new policy applies only to new aldermanic hires, though — leaving Sadzak and Smart beyond its reach.
And how were Austin and Jones able to get hired by Emanuel’s City Hall after being were fired by the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley?
“At the time the two employees . . . were rehired, DHR was manually cross-checking employees with the [do-not-hire] list,” Quinn says. “Since 2011, more than 11,000 employees have been hired, and unfortunately two slipped through the manual check.”
Quinn says City Hall will now do computerized cross-checks of city employees’ Social Security numbers against the “do-not-hire” list. And job applications will now ask that all former city employees disclose why they left their previous city jobs.
Sadzak wouldn’t comment. Jones, Smart and Pope didn’t return calls.
Burnett — an ex-con who got a pardon from Gov. Jim Edgar after being convicted of robbery — defended hiring Smart, who quit before the City Hall investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against him was completed.
“With my background, I’ve got to give a man the benefit of the doubt,” Burnett says. “I asked him if he was guilty, and he said no. He didn’t steal anything from the city or anything.
“He’s a great employee. Jesse helps me with people when they have building problems. He used to have an organization in my ward.”
The Daley administration began keeping the “do-not-hire” list in the wake of the Hired Truck scandal, in which 30 of the 48 people convicted of federal crimes in the wake of a Sun-Times investigation were current or former city employees.
Today, the list is an index of sorts of scandals from the Daley administration. Those on it include: former police Cmdr. Jon Burge, now serving a prison term for perjury in testimony regarding police torture cases; Daley’s patronage director Robert Sorich, who was sentenced in 2006 to more than three years in prison for his role in a City Hall hiring scheme; former City Clerk Jim Laski, who went to prison for taking bribes in the Hired Truck scandal; and former Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th), who did time for taking bribes and extorting developers.
There are 492 former city employees on the “do-not-hire” list, but, according to the Emanuel administration, “The list may be incomplete for earlier years,” when the Daley administration didn’t keep track of all its crooked employees.
Contributing: Chris Fusco