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The Watchdogs: Fired as city water boss, now fired from Cook County

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Life in Chicago politics can be a roller coaster, something Tommie Talley has seen firsthand.

In 2010, the Daley administration fired him from his job as a top official in the Water Department. His bosses said that he dispatched city water crews on three occasions to do repair work on private property, records show.

Despite that, then-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger hired Talley last October as a $90,000-a-year administrative analyst in the county Highway Department — a position exempt from the court-ordered Shakman decree that bans most political hiring and firing in government.

Now, newly obtained records show that Toni Preckwinkle, Stroger’s successor as Cook County Board president, fired him in March.

Preckwinkle spokeswoman Jessey Neves declined to give a reason for Talley’s firing.

“He was in a Shakman-exempt position and thus working at the discretion of the president,” Neves said.

Talley said Tuesday he was terminated March 17. And he said his supervisor, Highway Supt. Rupert F. Graham, told him it wasn’t because of his work.

“He said, ‘It’s politics, Tommie,’ ” Talley said. “He said they didn’t want my name to taint the reputation of the president.”

Graham denies that.

“No, I told him I was not told by the administration . . . why they made that decision,” Graham said.

Talley was a $127,824-a-year deputy commissioner in the city’s Water Management Department until early 2010. That’s when he was fired over the allegations regarding city crews doing work on private property.

“Those accusations are totally false,” Talley said. “After 29 years of service, I had 11 months to retire. Why would I compromise myself?”

In the high-profile 2006 federal corruption trial that culminated with the conviction of Robert Sorich, Mayor Daley’s former patronage chief, Talley was named in testimony as having helped rig city hiring, but he was never charged with any crime.

Asked about that, Talley said, “I don’t know. I didn’t follow that trial.”

In 2005, he was suspended from his city job for 15 days, accused of failing to exercise proper supervision over employees accused of taking part in a payroll scam.

“I knew nothing about that at all,” he said, adding that he was suspended because he supervised those involved.

Talley, 51, has longstanding ties to mayoral brother and Cook County Commissioner John Daley’s 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.

When Stroger hired Talley last fall, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin criticized his hiring, saying, “We are not here to collect bad apples.”

Suffredin applauded Preckwinkle for firing Talley, saying, “We’re not the dumping ground for employees fired by other governments.”

Talley said he is now unemployed and having a tough time finding a job.

“Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people,” he said. “It’s happened to me twice now.”



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