The last time we heard much about John O’Sullivan, the south suburban political operator was bitterly bidding goodbye to his job at Cook County’s forest preserves.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made clear she had no more use for the former state representative and Worth Township Democratic committeeman known as “Johnny O.”
In her characteristically understated manner, Preckwinkle said in 2011 that she had “let go” of O’Sullivan because he was “not a good fit” for his $85,704.32-a-year job as a forest preserve regional superintendent.
He said at the time that he felt the firing was unfair, but somehow that sour experience wasn’t enough to turn O’Sullivan off from working at the county again.
Because, sure enough, O’Sullivan has returned to the county payroll, hired back earlier this year — with the blessing of Preckwinkle’s office.
County records show O’Sullivan is now a handpicked, $80,000-a-year aide for Commissioner Edward Moody, D-Crestwood. Moody is a Preckwinkle ally and longtime top precinct captain for Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic boss Michael Madigan.
Before you worry that O’Sullivan isn’t getting paid as much as he used to make in his last stint with the county, consider he already was working another public-sector job as supervisor of Worth Township.
According to a sworn “report of dual employment” that O’Sullivan had to file with the county when he was re-hired in April, he’s working 40 hours a week for Moody at the county building downtown and at the commissioner’s district office in the suburbs.
Yet, O’Sullivan wrote that he still would manage to find five hours a week for “outside employment” as Worth Township supervisor.
The job in the suburbs pays him another $42,000 a year, a Worth Township official said.
At that clip, the taxpayers of Worth Township are shelling out about $161.54 an hour for O’Sullivan’s five hours of work for them each week.
How does he juggle the two jobs?
It’s not clear from the public records. Asked on the county form to state when exactly he works for Moody, O’Sullivan wrote, “Time varies each day.” And asked to disclose his work schedule at Worth Township, he wrote, “Time varies each week.”
Neither O’Sullivan nor Moody returned my calls inviting them to comment for this column.
O’Sullivan’s departure from the Preckwinkle administration wasn’t the first time he’d been bounced from county employment.
He left a $72,216-a-year job as a county hospital system laborer in 2010 after being the subject of “termination with cause,” county records show. The county’s independent inspector general had accused him of falsifying time cards.
O’Sullivan appealed and got reinstated, only to leave the county again as he completed the term of a state representative who resigned.
O’Sullivan didn’t run for election as state rep, staying in Springfield barely long enough to vote in favor of an unpopular, 67 percent hike in the state income tax.
Then, there was his stint with the county forest preserves, which Preckwinkle ended after just a few months, followed by his work as a Springfield lobbyist.
In April, Moody asked the Preckwinkle administration to hire O’Sullivan as an aide to him. Approval from the administration came within days. Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, John Keller, swiftly signed off on putting O’Sullivan in his new position, which is exempt from restrictions against hiring based on political ties.
Could they have found someone better for the job?
According to county human-resources documents, the “preferred qualifications” for O’Sullivan’s job include having a master’s degree or law degree. In O’Sullivan’s job application, he said he had gone no further in his schooling than Mount Carmel High School.
Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said the decision to hire O’Sullivan was entirely Moody’s call.
“We defer to the commissioners on who they want to hire on their staff,” Shuftan said, adding that O’Sullivan’s past experiences at the county had not resulted in his placement on the county’s “do not hire” list.
Coincidentally or not, Moody did not join the effort to repeal Preckwinkle’s unpopular pop tax, despite coming under heavy pressure from mayors in his district.
The situation with O’Sullivan echoes the story I told you last week about Kenny Austin. He’s the son of Ald. Carrie Austin who was forced out from a city job last year by the city’s inspector general, yet was re-hired last Monday by mom, as her 34th Ward Streets and Sanitation superintendent.
At City Hall and on the other side of the building the city shares with the county, it seems to come easy for our elected leaders to forgive, forget and give second chances to people with the right connections.
With our money, of course.