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Group rips Stroger regime
Hiring monitor: Outgoing administration ups hiring, firing to reward supporters, punish detractors

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

On the same day Cook County Board President Todd Stroger withdrew the controversial appointment of his former campaign manager to a county zoning seat, a court-appointed hiring monitor issued a scathing report accusing the Stroger administration of rewarding political loyalists with county work.

In fact, the revolving door of employees has picked up speed in the wake of Stroger losing the February primary, according to a report issued Tuesday by Mary Robinson, the Shakman compliance administrator charged with ensuring the county adheres to a federal court-ordered ban on political hiring.

"Since losing his primary bid to run for re-election, the President has aggressively used his legal authority to make unilateral exempt hiring and firing decisions to reward supporters and part company with those who were disloyal," Robinson wrote. "In addition, current exempt workers who expect to be released by any incoming administration are looking for the protection of a nonexempt job."

Stroger staffers lowered minimum job qualifications -- without explanation -- and interviewed politically connected job applicants, pretending not to know they had clout, in the hiring process, according to Robinson's 35-page report.

In one case, Robinson was called on to sign off on six series of "emergency" hires whose salaries would be paid for by a Homeland Security grant. But on closer inspection, three of the hires had political ties: one worked for a private firmed owned by Stroger Deputy Chief of Staff Carla Oglesby; a second had been a paid financial adviser to Stroger's campaign; and a third was the wife of a Chicago alderman. Those three hires were ultimately nixed, according to Robinson's report.

The consequences are that politics are put ahead of a job candidates's ability to get the job done -- and taxpayers pay the price, Robinson said in a brief interview.

More than $3 million in salaries and other expenses has been spent since 2006 paying court monitors to keep an eye on Shakman compliance in the county, according to county documents.

"The president's commitment to advancing the Shakman agenda and achieving substantial compliance has been erratic, resulting in [a] waste of energy, time and taxpayer money," Robinson wrote in her report to the federal judge overseeing the court order.

Of the roughly 14,000 county employees, Stroger is authorized to consider politics in hiring and firing as many as 500 bosses exempt from the Shakman court order.

A Stroger spokesman steadfastly denies the lameduck president is rewarding those who worked on his losing re-election bid.

"It's not a revolving door. The president said a long time ago people who don't live up to the job performance, he's going to replace them," said Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins. "He's president until December 2010, and he's going to continue ensuring good people are running the county."

Earlier in the day, Stroger nixed the nomination of his former campaign manager to a $38,000-a-year seat on the county's Zoning Board of Appeals.

Stroger sent a two-sentence letter noting as much to Cook County commissioners.

Stroger staffers had initially asked county commissioners to defer a decision on lawyer and lobbyist Vincent Williams' appointment.

Williams withdrew his name, Stroger spokesman Mullins said early Tuesday evening. Williams cited a conflict of interest between his lobbying work in Springfield and sitting on the zoning board of appeals, Mullins said.

But several commissioners said there weren't enough votes on the board to approve Williams' appointment.

"There's been questions raised by commissioners about his active role in the campaign . . . and it being so close to the end of his administration." said Commissioner Peter Silvestri, a Republican representing the Northwest Side and suburbs.



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