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Cook County's patronage watchdog quits abruptly

Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

The court-appointed watchdog in charge of rooting out patronage hiring at Cook County quit abruptly Tuesday, issuing a statement that chided the county board for not doing its part in the process.

The compliance administrator, Julia Nowicki, would not immediately comment on her decision, saying she was trying to contact board members before speaking with the press. Monday was a county holiday, Casimir Pulaski day, and so most, if not all commissioners, were not in their offices to receive a letter she had sent them Monday.

"In the letter, Nowicki made it clear that she was not charged with the responsibility of eradicating illegal patronage practices. She reminded the board that that responsibility was theirs," a statement from Nowicki's office said.

The release also noted that there were further recommendations Nowicki had made that had not been enacted by the board and could be done without any additional cost to the county.

The letter recounted patronage horror stories, including the comments of an unnamed county doctor who told Nowicki he feared that retribution for reporting patronage hiring could include discontinuation of needed medical supplies. Nowicki told the board, "you should be outraged," the statement said.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat who helped draft the county's agreed court order, known as the Shakman decree, was surprised by the news and had not yet seen the letter when reached Monday.

"I'm surprised," said Suffredin. "I think she's done a good job, and I felt better that she was there."

Although Nowicki hadn't told commissioners about her plans, she apparently had informed U.S. District Court Judge Wayne Andersen, who appointed a successor Monday. The new compliance administrator will be Mary Robinson, former administrator for the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which investigates complaints against attorneys and recommends discipline to the Illinois Supreme Court.

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