Under terms of a 2004 court case, unionized workers are exempt from any such rule unless it’s included as part of a bargained contract. That covers most of the county’s workforce, effectively excluding them from any residency rule.
But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, while letting little folks off the hook, does require policymakers, those exempt from Shakman decree patronage rules, to live in the county.
Why the rule?
“As a Shakman-exempt employee, it is important to identify with the needs and objectives of the residents of Cook County,” said a 2018 rule issued by Preckwinkle’s human resources bureau. “This can ideally be achieved if the employee is, in fact, an actual resident of Cook County.”
Added the memo, “As a Cook County resident, an employee not only participates directly in the activities of a neighborhood, but has the ability to enhance the quality of life in the community of Cook County. This participation and commitment is essential to the cultivation of a strong sense of public service as it positively impacts the citizens of Cook County.”
However, Preckinwinkle’s order applies only to offices directly under her control, excluding the huge health unit and, notably, offices run by independently elected officials. And they all go their own direction.
For instance, county Treasurer Maria Pappas says that while it’s never been an issue in her small office with less than 100 workers, “to the best of my knowledge” they all live in the county. Pappas suggested that she’s not making a big deal of it. When the office had some recent vacancies, “We put out an ad and nobody responded. It’s hard to find people,” she said.
As first pointed out by his re-election foe, Kari Steele, county Assessor Fritz Kaegi has allowed top staffers to live outside the county, with Deputy Assessor and Chief Valuation Officer Martin Paulson residing and registered to vote in Lake County and Director of Special Projects Craig Duval in DuPage County.
Kaegi, in a statement from his Chief Legal Officer, Tatia Gibbons, said he’s just treating top aides fairly, given that lower-ranking office workers now are legally exempt from having to live in the county.
“In order to treat all employees similarly, the assessor chose to adopt the same approach for all employees,” said the statement. “This decision was made by the assessor after consulting with the county independent inspector general to ensure that this was an appropriate course of action."
Both staffers are highly qualified for their jobs, with Paulson, for instance, having formerly served as the Lake County assessor, added Kaegi spokesman Scott Smith. Those are the only two senior staffers who live out of the county, Smith said.
But Steele says the two should “move or be fired.”
Another county official, Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez, says the issue “has never popped up” since she took over two years ago.
“We have no (residency) policy per se,” Martinez said. “There is no rule.”