Monitor: Cook Co. hiring still a problem

April 9, 2008 3:19:26 PM PDT
A court-appointed federal monitor testified on Wednesday that illegal political hiring is still an apparent problem in Cook County government. Despite the testimony, the Stroger administration said they have had no complaints about illegal patronage for more than a year. "As I said, I have gotten information about current illegal patronage," said Julia Nowicki, federal hiring monitor

Nowicki, who was appointed by a federal judge to help Cook County end decades of political hiring, firing and promotions, told the county board she is still receiving dozens of allegations that illegal patronage is alive and well in county offices and department. The complaints follow a 2006 FBI raid on the personnel office and a federal Shakman lawsuit, which prompted Nowicki's appointment.

"If the independent inspector general was already put in place, I would have an avenue for this. We're behind. This should have been done months and months ago," said Nowicki.

The Stroger administration said there is no evidence to support the allegations.

"The concern is what are the claims and what time period are we discussing?" said Laura Lechowicz Felicione, Stroger's attorney.

"There's no systematic system that's trying to hire people illegally," said President Todd Stroger, Cook County Board

According to the federal monitor, the county's hiring system is so inept that people get typing jobs- without taking a typing test, no applicant is subjected to background checks, and insiders find out about jobs before the general public does.

Cleaning up the mess would require a permanent human resources director with a bigger staff, modernizing job classifications, and adoption an anti-patronage plan. It's all easier said than done, according to Stroger and his allies.

"You think we just sit here not doing anything and you have to come in here and tell us? You came here for a purpose-- to talk about patronage. Not to run the county," said Commissioner Bill Beavers, (D) Chicago

"We don't have any money," said Stroger. "Government always runs on a short leash. Somebody has to figure out how we're going to get more money and where it's going to come from. There are a lot of things we won't do."

Despite the obstacles, Stroger says the county will comply with all of Nowicki's recommendations by the end of the year. If that happens, the federal oversight will go away.

However, Nowicki said the progress is painfully slow and, if the patronage allegations she's been hearing about are true, Cook County will be under federal supervision and investigation into next year and beyond.


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