$12 million fund set up for victims
March 22, 2007
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporters
Mayor Daley agreed Wednesday to establish a $12 million fund to compensate victims of City Hall’s rigged hiring system and abandon his five-year-old effort to vacate the federal Shakman decree banning political hiring.
“I don’t believe this is the cost of corruption…This settlement is illustrative of the city’s desire to move forward with its reform efforts…It’s a new day…We are going to have no tolerance for anyone gaming the system,” said Chief of Staff Ron Huberman.
Plaintiff Michael Shakman said the city “should have fixed its hiring system a long time ago” — long before Daley’s patronage chief was convicted of rigging city hiring.
“The mayor has an opportunity. He’s either going to be remembered by history as the mayor who presided over the last big-city hiring machine or the mayor who fixed it,” said Shakman, whose 1969 lawsuit triggered the long-running dispute over political hiring and firing in Chicago.
The $12 million fund, disclosed last month by the Chicago Sun-Times, would be administered by federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan, who would become a fixture at City Hall — at least for the next 21 months.
The agreement establishes a $100,000 cap on individual damages. The awards will apply only to those who can prove they’ve been bypassed for city jobs and promotions since Jan. 1, 2000. Last year alone, 120,000 people applied for city jobs.
“We anticipate the quantity of applicants will be extremely high… The monitors will have to set up a process to establish standards. They’ll have to say, `This dollar compensation requires this level of evidence,’ “ Huberman said.
Brennan, whose team has already been paid $1.65 million in legal fees, said the amounts paid out will depend on how many claims forms are submitted. Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said the monitor has been directed to interpret claims “liberally.”
“She’ll be looking to the city if she has a question about a particular hiring sequence and say, `Let me see the documents.’ If we’re unable to demonstrate..that the most qualified people were hired, I would think she would hold those claims valid,” Georges said.
The out-of-court settlement requires the mayor and city department heads, on or after Dec. 31, 2008, to sign certificates of compliance. It opens the door for City Hall to get out from under the Shakman decree. It will be up to Brennan to determine whether “substantial compliance” has, in fact occurred.
Until that time, Brennan will remain the city’s hiring czar. A new hiring system is expected to be put in place by April 30 that relies heavily on lotteries for so-called “willing-and-able” positions where tests are not relevant.
The agreement also envisions a key role for Inspector General David Hoffman.
After May 31, Hoffman will become the primary investigator for hiring abuses with the power to recommend disciplinary action and even prosecution. The inspector general’s investigations could ultimately lead to monetary damages after a new city arbitration process. A new executive order will require city employees to report complaints of political discrimination to the inspector general.
“This is an important milestone in creating a system of integrity in city hiring….Given the proper resources, we will be able to become a strong independent watchdog to ensure integrity in hiring and promotions,” said Hoffman, who was directed to try to wrap up each hiring investigation within six months.
Another key element of the agreement is the additional flexibility it affords the city in filling top jobs.
Instead of honoring the city’s request to more than double the 1,186 policymaking jobs exempt from the Shakman decree, the agreement creates a new category of 935 senior management jobs. Political considerations will be verboten, but the hiring process for those jobs will be expedited. Department heads will have more discretion. Referrals will be permitted.
“We now have the additional flexibility we’re seeking…Commissioners and other individuals can make specific referrals of names to add to a hiring list and it’s an expedited process that doesn’t go through all the normal hoops,” Huberman said.
The terms are expected to go over like a lead balloon with Chicago aldermen, who have accused Brennan of invading their turf. They have also railed repeatedly about the monitor’s legal fees, her ever-expanding role in city hiring and about the effect those controls have had on their ability to deliver neighborhood services and get their people placed in top jobs.
“We’re very concerned about the diversity issue,” said Ald. Ed Smith (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.
Brennan was appointed in August, 2005 by a federal judge livid with the city for making a mockery of the Shakman decree, which was supposed to end political hiring and firing.
Eleven months later, Daley’s former patronage chief was convicted of rigging city hiring and promotions to benefit pro-Daley armies of political workers.