Judge lifts Shakman decree federal oversight on Chicago hiring

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A judge lifted federal monitoring of Chicago's hiring practices Monday afternoon, in a move that's being supported by Michael Shakman, the lawyer who first sued over the use of clout in city hiring practices.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said there is still work to be done to earn public trust, but he called it a new day in Chicago, wherein hiring at City Hall is all about what you know rather than who you know.

"This is an acknowledgement that we have cleaned up the past," Emanuel said.

Forty-five years ago, attorney Michael Shakman filed a lawsuit that led to a series of decrees that would end political corruption when it came to hiring Chicago city employees. Shakman's civil litigation led to orders, known as Shakman decrees, for the city to halt the politically driven hiring. After several high ranking city officials were charged in 2005 for rigging city hiring to reward Mayor Richard M. Daley's political workers, Noelle Brennan was hired as a federal hiring monitor to increase oversight even more.

"I was concerned about the fact that the Department of Human Resources had no authority, no ability to enforce the rules," Brennan said.

After nine years and a new administration, Brennan and Shakman are satisfied that enough policies and procedures are in place to prevent political patronage. They say it's time for the city to police itself.

Shakman filed a motion in May asking U.S. District Judge Sidney Shenkier to end the federal oversight. He praised Mayor Emanuel's administration for complying with bans on doling out jobs based on political connections.

"Is patronage dead? No," said Shakman, "But is it in a position where it can be controlled, limited and reduced to zero. We are headed in that direction."

Some current and former city workers disagree.

"There is still retaliation for people who blow the whistle on corruption," said Patrick McDonough, a city employee. "I don't think that will ever end."

While the federal judge has taken Chicago off the hook, the state of Illinois itself is facing fresh scrutiny.

Shakman recently filed a complaint alleging some workers in Gov. Pat Quinn's transportation department were patronage hires. In response, Quinn has said he has "zero tolerance" for any wrongdoing in his administration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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