Problem? What problem?

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Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward) agrees with the city’s court-appointed monitor that something’s amiss with City Hall's employment practices. He just has a different take on what it is and who’s responsible for it. “One of the things I’m concerned about is the monitor being able to secure a job for themselves,” Burnett said Wednesday. “As long as they’re here, they’re getting paid. If they don’t find anything wrong, they won’t get any money. Why wouldn’t they keep it going?”

No one else had the guts (or gall) to say it as bluntly as Burnett, but several other aldermen attending a committee meeting this afternoon reacted similarly to the news that monitor Noelle Brennan, appointed by a federal judge to chart the city’s compliance with bans on political hiring and firing, continues to find examples of patronage, fixed job interviewing and test taking, and “temporary” hires that last months or years. The general consensus  was that Brennan is making patronage mountains out of the molehills of innocent favors and minor bureaucratic mistakes. 

“I’m not too happy with the monitor,” said one alderman, hastily adding that he didn't want to be identified.

Of course, some aldermen said they hadn’t read the report yet. They should. The complete document is supposed to be available at shakmanmonitor.com soon, but in the meantime here's some of the dirt:

  • Before the end of 2006, the city didn’t have any “objective measure of skill” included in its procedures for hiring foremen for trade positions. In other words, there were no tests to measure how good the candidates were at their trades. Part of a new test introduced this year includes skill questions that require short answers. But the grading process has been so subjective that in some cases “one scorer will have a candidate passing the test, but another scorer will fail the same candidate.” The city is supposed to be working on changes.
  • In March the Department of Planning and Development began working to hire a new senior research assistant. A representative from Brennan’s office sat in on some of the interviews and determined that the questions and answers suggested “potential pre-selection” of the person who ended up being offered the job. The monitor investigated further before concluding that the favored candidate had been a student intern in the department for three years, until top department officials “began more strictly enforcing the rule that student interns actually be students.” The intern had to leave the job because he hadn’t been a student for a year. But at just that time, the department decided to “outsource” the position to a private company—which hired the former intern and gave him the same duties he’d had before. “During his transition from a City ‘student’ intern to an employee of the outside contractor, the individual in question never left his duties or his desk at Planning.”
  • In late 2005 the Department of Fleet Management sought to hire a pair of equipment dispatchers. Two department employees were targeted for the positions, but they didn’t have the year of experience required. So both were named “acting” equipment dispatchers and the formal hiring process was halted. A year later, when these candidates had gained the required experience, the positions were posted as open again. But human resources officials didn’t put the two employees on their candidate list, so the hiring process was stopped once more. Finally, late last year, fleet management started the process again. This time the two preferred candidates were tapped for the jobs “despite being the least senior or all the candidates who bid for the title,” and a deputy commissioner of fleet management “was involved in the manipulation.” Brennan’s office forwarded this information to the Inspector General’s Office for a full investigation.
  • In January a deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation sent an e-mail naming four people she planned to hire to fill department openings—before any of the jobs were posted or interviews had been conducted. She told an investigator from Brennan’s office that “she had, in effect, ‘promised’ these positions to the candidates she intended to select.” The city suspended the deputy commissioner for a week.
  • For the last several years the Department of Aviation has circumvented the official hiring process for several openings by bypassing better qualified candidates in favor of other employees who were simply promoted to the new posts on an indefinite “acting” basis. The promoted workers had appeared on the “clout list ” [PDF] of politically sponsored job-seekers introduced in the federal trial of Robert Sorich, Daley’s patronage chief. The city has pledged to start the hiring process again from scratch.

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