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City employees still don’t get regular performance evaluations, watchdog says

Departing Inspector General Joe Ferguson warned last fall the city’s failure to conduct regular evaluations for nearly half of its 33,000 employees left personnel decisions “vulnerable to appearances and suspicions of favoritism.”

Chicago City Hall, with the Board of Trade building in the background.
Chicago City Hall, with the Board of Trade building in the background.
Sun-Times file

Nine months after an alarming audit that questioned Chicago’s personnel practices, the city’s Department of Human Resources has yet to fully implement any of the six corrective measures aimed at ensuring that city employees get regular performance evaluations.

Retiring Inspector General Joe Ferguson warned last fall that the city’s failure to conduct those evaluations for nearly half of its 33,000 employees left personnel decisions “vulnerable to appearances and suspicions of favoritism.”

But that ominous warning was not enough to spur the department into action.

In a follow-up report released Tuesday, Ferguson concluded the human resources department has not “fully or substantially implemented’ any corrective actions he suggested.

Ferguson noted evaluations are “critical” in any workplace, but even more important for government employees, who are “paid through tax dollars.”

“The public should be assured that those who are employed by the city and working for the benefit of its communities receive performance evaluations to foster technical and professional development that promotes productivity and a merit-based workplace,” Ferguson was quoted as saying in a press release issued with his follow-up report.

“The Department of Human Resources is specifically charged with responsibility for monitoring and enforcing compliance of individual departments in the execution of this necessary and legally-mandated employment practice. We again urge the department to follow best practices, enforce standards and implement changes that would benefit the city and its employees as required by the municipal code.”

In the October audit, Ferguson concluded nearly half of the city’s 33,000 employees work in departments that either never evaluate performance or don’t conduct those evaluations regularly, leaving personnel decisions “vulnerable to appearances and suspicions of favoritism.”

That has left “more than 10,000” city employees working in seven departments that don’t conduct performance evaluations. Another 6,000 employees work in 13 departments that don’t evaluate the performance of all employees regularly.

The Department of Fleet and Facilities Management was credited with maintaining a monthly completion average of 83%. At the Chicago Police Department, only 490 out of 1,700 supervisors — 27.7% — received their 2018 performance evaluations by the due date.

“Without regular evaluations, city employees lack critical guidance and incentive for continual improvement in the execution of their duties for the public, as well as the support for professional growth and development a model employer owes them,” Ferguson said then.

“Their absence — which this audit reveals to be widespread — renders such decisions overly dependent on comparatively standard-less, unaccountable management discretion and vulnerable to appearances and suspicion of favoritism.”

The inspector general recommended strengthening personnel rules to “require performance evaluations for all city employees on, at least an annual basis” and “define expectations and responsibilities” for conducting those evaluations.

Ferguson further recommended annual reports to the mayor’s office on each department’s compliance, and an “automated, real-time tracking system.”

Human Resources embraced virtually all the recommendations. That included a promise to issue a “citywide performance evaluation policy requiring departments to designate the date of each employee’s annual evaluation and track on time completion rates.”

But in Tuesday’s follow-up, Ferguson noted that while Human Resources has “identified ways to use existing city data systems to monitor departments’ completion of annual evaluations,” the department has “not yet created or implemented a citywide evaluation policy.”

“The department attributed this to technical issues and operational changes in response to COVID-19 and stated it intends to issue a policy by the end of 2021,” the inspector general wrote.

Ferguson’s warning about personnel decisions being open to at least the appearance of favoritism and politics has a familiar ring.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s patronage chief, Streets and Sanitation commissioner and a handful of others were convicted of rigging city hiring to benefit the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.

Under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago was released from the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor — but only after the hiring scandal had cost Chicago taxpayers $22.9 million over the previous decade.

Those costs included: a $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 for outside counsel.