by Alex Parker
Starting this month, Cook County employees will be required to keep track of their contacts with elected officials when it comes to political hiring and firing, said Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle this morning.
The move to require county, health system, and forest preserve employees to log their interactions with politicians is not new. Rather, it’s a reincarnation of a 1998 action undertaken by the county, in which it required interview teams and others participating in employment decisions to keep track of political contacts, which might influence hiring. But Preckwinkle said the county never followed through.
The announcement made by Preckwinkle, flanked by independent inspector general Patrick Blanchard and the federally appointed hiring monitors for the county and forest preserve, Mary Robinson and Jan Carlson, is part of a larger effort to comply with the so-called Shakman decree, which bars politically connected hiring and firing.
“For too long, the county failed to meet the mandates outlined in the Shakman decree,” Preckwinkle said. “This is a step toward ending the county’s history of political favors and backroom deals.”
Blanchard, whose most recent report outlined how forest preserve employees bilked the county out of more than $166,000 in unapproved overtime, said the contact log “is an important advancement in freeing government from unlawful political influence in its operations.”
Other elected officials, including Sheriff Tom Dart, will require employees to log their contact with officials, Blanchard said. (UPDATE: Dart spokesman Steve Patterson says the sheriff's office is already keeping a list of political contact.)
The log will not be available to the public, but will be kept by the hiring monitors.
Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, praised Preckwinkle for “walking the walk” of reform.
“This is another example of a public official who understands these are our tax dollars that have to be spent on us and not political favors,” he said. “It’s another step towards a government that’s legit.”