Although Mayor Rahm Emanuel has agreed to close a loophole that for decades allowed city employees fired for misconduct to get hired at other government agencies, aldermen have refused to go along when it comes to the hundreds of jobs they control, according to a federal hiring monitor.
As part of his effort to get out from under the watchful eye of a costly federal court monitor, Emanuel in February secured approval from so-called sister agencies — like the CTA, Chicago Public Schools and Park District — to abide by the city's do-not-hire list. Former employees are placed on that list after getting fired for misconduct or leaving city employment while facing allegations that are later deemed credible.
"Despite numerous recommendations and letters sent to the City Council by this office, the City Council has not agreed to honor the Ineligible for Rehire list," monitor Noelle Brennan wrote in a report last month. Brennan does not have oversight of City Council.
Despite that rejection, Brennan's report recommends that the city be declared in "substantial compliance" with the court-imposed ban on taking politics into consideration when hiring, firing, promoting and disciplining most city employees. If approved, the city would end decades of oversight that began in 1972, when Richard J. Daley was mayor.
Although more than a dozen individuals and attorneys have objected to declaring the city in compliance, the declaration is backed by Michael Shakman, who filed the original case leading to oversight, along with Brennan and city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier has scheduled a hearing Monday to consider the matter.
If Schenkier agrees, Emanuel will have accomplished something that eluded Richard M. Daley, his predecessor, during his 22-year tenure.
In a telephone interview Friday, Emanuel said achieving compliance is part of the reform he promised during his last campaign. Compliance, he maintained, would signal a break with the past in a city where local lore said government leaders would not hire "nobody nobody sent," a reference to people without political sponsors.
City hiring, the mayor said, is now based "on what you know, how you can do your job, rather than who you know." But he conceded that getting out from under the court order, which has cost the city $22.8 million since 2005, doesn't ensure patronage cannot one day seep back into the fabric of city government.
"I don't want to get out from underneath the court order and slip back to past behavioral patterns," said Emanuel, who was expected to show up at Monday's hearing. "There's going to have to be a level of vigilance going forward to be true to the judge's opinion."
Emanuel said aldermen should abide by the do-not-hire list, as the city's sister agencies have agreed to do. Asked if he could make the City Council follow the list, he said his administration was leading by example and he would encourage the council to take that step.
"I think the City Council will see this, see why it's the appropriate thing for them to do to gain the confidence of the public," he said. "I encourage them to take a look at what we're doing citywide, and see why the best practices are the right practices for them."
Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, the mayor's City Council floor leader, said most aldermen would not employ people who are on the do-not-hire list, but he stopped short of saying there should be a rule making them adhere to it.
"If someone's been fired for dishonest or unethical conduct, I would like to think that the aldermen would recognize that's someone they do not want on their staff or interacting with the public," O'Connor said.
City Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan said aldermen should adhere to the same rules as the mayor and that his office should be given the same authority to oversee hiring as Ferguson's has, the city inspector general.
"The fact the City Council does not want to abide by the ineligible-for-rehire list is a perfect example of the double standard that takes place in the city," Khan said. "They put themselves above the law in juxtaposition to their colleagues in city government, and sooner or later this has to stop."
The council controls more than 200 full-time jobs with an overall payroll of more than $14.6 million, according to the city budget. That does not include expense accounts, which some aldermen tap to hire additional workers, that allow for a total of up to $4.85 million in additional spending.
The Tribune in 2009 documented how aldermen used a $1.3 million stealth payroll to make questionable hires, including relatives, friends and political allies. One aldermen hired a person placed on the do-not-hire list after being accused of sexual harassment.
Although this year's city budget eliminated that account, it increased the expense accounts by nearly $1.2 million, allowing a maximum allowance for each aldermen of $97,000 from $73,280.
If Schenkier declares substantial compliance, it would end a hiring oversight era that has lasted almost a decade. Brennan was put in place in 2005, when oversight was stepped up after four officials in the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley were charged in federal criminal court with rigging city hiring to reward Daley's political foot soldiers.
"Do I think ... the politics influencing, or political hiring influencing, (the) city is all over? No, because this is Chicago," Emanuel said Friday at an unrelated news conference. "Do I think we have shown that we have professionalized our hiring on the best practices? Yes, and I think we have to stay vigilant on that."
Tribune reporter John Byrne contributed.