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City gets a Hall monitor
Judge appoints independent watchdog to oversee hiring

By Mickey Ciokajlo and Gary Washburn
Tribune staff reporters
Published August 3, 2005

 
Suggesting that he felt duped by City Hall's past claims to have reined in patronage hiring, a federal judge Tuesday appointed a monitor with broad powers to oversee the city's personnel decisions.

U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen gave the monitor, Chicago lawyer Noelle Brennan, until Sept. 6 to develop her plan to watch over how the city doles out jobs. But the judge left open the possibility that she could essentially take over hiring at City Hall.

Mara Georges, the city's top lawyer, welcomed the monitor's involvement and pledged the city's full cooperation. She said the monitor would play a direct role in any changes city officials propose for reforming the hiring process at City Hall.

The ruling is the latest blow to Mayor Richard Daley's administration, which has been rocked by mounting scandals over jobs and contracts.

"I don't believe we can do anything without checking in with the monitor," Georges said after the hearing.

Andersen's ruling follows federal prosecutors' charges of widespread fraud in city hiring and the conviction last week of a high-ranking city official who admitted to illegal hiring as he pleaded guilty to tax fraud and racketeering.

"When you read through the criminal complaints that were filed in this case and--and the pleas that were entered, the sense of violation that I think anybody who loves the city has is almost overwhelming," Andersen said from the bench.

He said he was disappointed in himself for "having taken at face value" the city's claims that it was complying with a long-standing decree to limit political hiring. "At least in my case, I do not choose to live a life as a cynical person, but I certainly am going to look more carefully at representations made in this particular case in the future," Andersen said.

In a statement, Daley said his administration was prepared to ask the court to help the city create a new public service commission that would take hiring and promotion decisions out of City Hall.

"I hope that by working together, the city and the court can finally create a process that strengthens our personnel system," the mayor said.

Andersen, who has overseen the decades-old Shakman case for the last five years, told the monitor to return to court next month with her recommendation for what powers and staffing she believes she needs. He also asked her to propose a mechanism "for ensuring future employment actions are in compliance" with previous court orders.

Andersen said he specifically was not putting a limit on the monitor's powers at this stage.

"If in order to assure that the job is done right in effect she has to have a sign-off power in advance on personnel transactions, it would be a radical understatement to say that that would be daunting, given the size of the city of Chicago; so be it," Andersen said.

The judge stressed that one thing more important than the hiring structure is the honesty of the people in City Hall making the decisions. He added: "And ultimately this court may play a role in that."

"If government is going to accomplish anything, it has to begin from a base of integrity," Andersen said. "Sometimes I think when we get involved in grand plans with each other, loyalty gets to be a virtue that floats towards the top. But any time loyalty ... floats above integrity, one makes a very substantial moral misjudgment."

Andersen put off ruling on a request last week by attorney Michael Shakman to hold Daley in contempt for violating the decree. That request also included the placing of a "special master" to monitor city hiring.

"This is virtually exactly what we were hoping would occur," Shakman said afterward.

Brennan is in private practice. A lawyer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1997 to 2004, Brennan served as an intern for Andersen while in law school at DePaul.

Brennan was in the courtroom Tuesday, but Andersen asked her not to make any substantive comments to the media, saying he wants an open process in which her reports are made public in court.

Serving as Brennan's counsel are Ines Monte, who is Brennan's law partner, and Susan Cox, a former U.S. attorney who worked on the Shakman case while clerking for Andersen.
 

The city will pay Brennan and her staff. Andersen said he believed the cost involved would be less than if the city and Shakman proceeded in a contentious discovery process.

At the request of U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald's office, Andersen asked the monitor to look only at future hiring. Prosecutors sent a letter to the court asking that discovery in the civil litigation be limited for at least four months while the criminal investigation proceeds.

The U.S. attorney's office's letter was sent Monday to Andersen. Citing a need for openness, Andersen made the letter public.

In it, Philip Guentert, public corruption unit chief, cited the potential for civil discovery to interfere with the investigation.

"The government requests that, for the time being, the parties and the court consider limiting discovery to document production and interviews or depositions of persons who are not current or former city supervisory or personnel employees," Guentert wrote. "In addition, interviews or other discovery of political figures, such as elected officials and coordinators of political groups, also may adversely affect the criminal investigation."

Guentert asked that those matters in the civil case be delayed for at least 120 days while investigators do their work.

Andersen said he would respect the wishes of the U.S. attorney's office but said he may allow the civil proceedings to examine what occurred.

He called Shakman's pending request to find Daley in contempt a "pretty powerful, well-based application."

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mciokajlo@tribune.com

gwashburn@tribune.com

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U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen's comments

"And this matter is so significant, I live with it every day. And I share Mr. [Michael] Shakman's disappointment, and I am sure Miss [Mara] Georges' disappointment in the, apparently, incorrect view that we had of how things were going lo these many years."

"When you read through the criminal complaints that were filed in this case and--and the pleas that were entered, the sense of violation that I think anybody who loves the city has is almost overwhelming."

"I think both of us are disappointed in ourselves for having taken at face value representations made to this court, at least while I have been involved in this case. At least in my case I do not choose to live a life as a cynical person, but I certainly am going to have to look more carefully at representations made in this particular case in the future.

"I suspect--I hope that the deepest disappointment is felt by the elected officials and good public servants employed by the city of Chicago whose daily labors are geared towards making this a better and safer city. And when they find out that not only was there favoritism, but probably even--in hiring and perhaps promotions, but probably even worse than that, basic dishonesty in dealing with the community ... that creates a sense of violation that is hard to express in words."

"Sometimes I think when we get involved in grand plans with each other, loyalty gets to be a virtue that floats towards the top. But any time loyalty or what one thinks is loyalty floats above integrity, one makes a very substantial moral misjudgment."

"But I think the most important thing for us to do is to be able to assure to the public--and also, most importantly, to the good employees of the city of Chicago, that the process will run honestly and, given the fact that it is government, hopefully as efficiently as possible."

"And the assumption of powers that [Noelle Brennan] has, obviously, we will listen to everybody, but I specifically have not put any limitations on that. If in order to assure that the job is done right in effect she has to have a sign-off power in advance on personnel transactions, it would be a radical understatement to say that that would be daunting, given the size of the city of Chicago; so be it."

Copyright 2005, Chicago Tribune

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