Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Watchdog must have done his job too well
CITY HALL | Inspector general pushed aside after rooting out corruption

9/9/07 BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
David Hoffman has good reason to look weary. One, he's a new dad whose 2-week-old infant son is keeping him up at night. And two, he's Chicago's independent inspector general, who has fallen out of favor with the mayor.
Funny, at exactly the same time Hoffman was off on a two-week paternity leave, the City Council with record speed rammed a new ordinance through committee one day and to the floor for a vote the next, creating a new Office of Compliance. And lo and behold, that new office is designed to do pretty much what Hoffman's has been doing: monitor city hiring to prevent political patronage abuse that the federal Shakman decree has declared unlawful.

In a time of budget austerity and threatened tax increases, why would the city create a new, expensive, redundant department? Maybe to subvert Hoffman, who has been doing his job a little too well. The David Hoffman who today has a target on his back is the same one who came to work for city government in 2005 amid much fanfare. Daley stood right next to him at a mayoral news conference, hailed Hoffman's arrival and offered his ''full support . . . to root out and prevent misconduct -- whether in hiring, contracts or wherever it occurs.''

Note: In the Daley Dictionary, "full support" is not a synonym for "enduring.''
Yes, Hoffman had an excellent resume. A former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago with a Yale and University of Chicago Law School pedigree, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

And yes, back when he was appointed, the Daley administration really needed him to publicly prove its reform-mindedness. The Hired Truck scandal was raging, and a federal probe of city contracts and political hiring was expanding. It included the outrageous case of the city handing a $50,000-a-year building inspector job to a well-connected, utterly unqualified 19-year-old named Andy Ryan. Bad press required a new broom. But as Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman noted last month, "Now a marriage of necessity is showing serious signs of strain."

As Spielman reported, the mayor's office was not pleased when Hoffman recommended that Building Department boss Christopher Kozicki be fired for rigging the hiring of young Ryan. Kozicki, after all, was close to the Daleys. Or when Hoffman went after a Water Department foreman early this year for muscling co-workers to sign Daley mayoral nominating petitions. And City Hall sources say Law Department head and mayoral apparatchik Mara Georges did not like Hoffman's close working relationship with federal court hiring monitor Noelle Brennan, who helps make sure that the Shakman decree is followed.

Now it's showdown time. Pretty soon, U.S. District Court Judge Wayne Anderson will decide who will assume Brennan's duties once her work is finished. Brennan, as well as federal plaintiff Michael Shakman, believe it should be Hoffman, who has established a track record of integrity and independence. But the city, suddenly, wants yet another new broom. Hence, the creation of a suddenly necessary new watchdog agency headed by someone the mayor has yet to name.

Judge Anderson is not going to be suckered into buying any of this, I'm guessing.
But in the meantime, the Office of Compliance is off and running. Soon the mayor will announce who will head it. There undoubtedly will be another news conference like the one with David Hoffman. And the mayor, who no longer stands anywhere near his inspector general, will be at the side of his new appointee, pledging ''full support.''

New appointee, whoever you are, remember this:
David Hoffman isn't quitting. And under the law, the mayor can't fire him for another two years. Hoffman has established a track record of integrity and independence. But suddenly, the city wants yet another new broom.

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