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Revolving door for Cook County officials? Or just ‘transparent, good government’ in action?

Later this week, Preckwinkle and her chief of staff plan to choose, and announce, which of two finalists the board president wants to replace Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli. Campanelli was not among the finalists for the position.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, left, last March; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, in December.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, left, last March; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, in December.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Just days before she’s to name a new public defender to replace one who wanted to stay on the job, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday balked at the idea that there’s a revolving door in county government, calling the notion “ridiculous.”

Later this week, Preckwinkle and her chief of staff plan to choose, and announce, which of two finalists the board president wants to replace Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli.

The Chicago Sun-Times learned late Friday that Campanelli was not among the finalists for the position Preckwinkle first chose her for six years ago.

The decision adds Campanelli to a growing list of county officials shown the door over the past 16 months, including Cook County Public Health chief Dr. Terry Mason, Cook County Health CEO Dr. Jay Shannon and Ekerete Akpan, chief financial officer for the county health care system.

Dr. Terry Mason, left; Ekerete Akpan, right.
Dr. Terry Mason, left; Ekerete Akpan, right.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; cookcountyhealth.org

Asked about those ousters and her response to whether or not there’s a revolving door at the county, Preckwinkle said “I think that’s ridiculous.”

“First of all, Amy came to the end of the six-year term, and there was a process in place, which we used six years ago — same process — to bring up candidates for consideration for the position,” Preckwinkle said. “So, we’ve followed the same procedure that we did six years ago.

“As to Jay Shannon’s departure, as you’re well aware, there’s an independent governing board for the health and hospitals system and that decision was made by the health and hospital system … that’s, at this point, a little bit ago.”

Then Cook County Health CEO John Jay Shannon, second from right, with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, and other county officials in 2015.
Then Cook County Health CEO John Jay Shannon, second from right, with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, and other county officials in 2015.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Preckwinkle said six years ago the county went through the same process to fill the public defender position as it did this time. The board president set up a selection committee, candidates applied and were interviewed, and Campanelli was chosen.

“That’s sort of a transparent, good government thing to do, I would argue,” Preckwinkle said. “And we did the same thing this time, and as I said, two candidates were recommended as a result of that process, I think we interviewed almost two dozen people and my chief of staff and I will make a decision which we’ll share later in the week.”

Preckwinkle shed no light on why Campanelli wasn’t chosen to stay on in the position she’s held since 2015.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli speaks during a news conference outside the Richard J. Daley Center in July.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli speaks during a news conference outside the Richard J. Daley Center in July.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

“I’m grateful to public defender Campanelli for her good work over the last six years, her work on police station representation, on setting up an immigration unit I would particularly single out,” Preckwinkle said.

Campanelli’s current term ends at the end of the month. The public defender said last December she would seek a second six-year term to “continue to advocate that the criminal justice system be just for all.”

Preckwinkle opened up the option of picking a new public defender that month, forming a selection committee to review resumes, interview candidates and recommend three candidates to Preckwinkle for a final decision.

Though other candidates were invited to apply, Preckwinkle could have chosen to keep Campanelli in the role.

Instead, the committee chose just two finalists. One is Sharone Mitchell, who has worked at the Illinois Justice Project since 2016 and was previously a trial attorney with the public defender’s office, according to the justice project’s website.

The other contender is Emmanuel Andre, attorney at the North Side Transformative Law Center, whose legal services include community defense, victim rights and Illinois Department of Children and Family Services cases, reentry planning and expungement, according to the center’s website.

Sharone Mitchell Jr., director of the Illinois Justice Project. 
Sharone Mitchell Jr., director of the Illinois Justice Project.
Provided

Preckwinkle said she had “absolutely nothing” to do with the selection committee’s work.

Asked what her vision is for the office, and if she wanted to see it go in a different direction, Preckwinkle said “I think you will soon have a nominee to direct that inquiry to, and I think that’s probably more appropriate.

“I’ll let the nominee speak for himself,” the board president said.

Preckwinkle nominated Campanelli for a six-year term in 2015, saying at the time she’d “proven herself to be a relentless advocate for her clients.”

Preckwinkle’s pick for the public defender position will be recommended to the Cook County Board for its approval, she said.