Dispute over political workEmployee fired by Cook commissioner last year says she did political and personal work on county time, but he says she is retaliating
Monday, November 27, 2006
by Mickey Ciokajlo and Robert Becker
Julie Lively was no stranger to Cook County government when she went to work as an aide for Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno four years ago.
But Lively said the work she was given didn't have a lot to do with her previous experience in county government. At Moreno's direction, Lively said, she spent most of her work day facilitating requests for county jobs, helping with Moreno's private law practice and even selling tickets for political fundraisers.
Lively said in an interview last week that before Moreno fired her in July 2005, she spent about 20 percent of her time on work she considered legitimate county business.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," said Lively, who went to work for Moreno in December 2002 after her previous boss, Republican Commissioner Herb Schumann, was voted out of office.
Moreno, a Democrat who was just re-elected to a fourth term, denied Lively's accusations, saying he would never allow staff members to do political work or tasks for his law office on government time. He characterized as a "total fabrication" the dozens of unsigned memos and letters that Lively has circulated to the news media and federal investigators to back up her claims.
"I would have to be a damn fool on crack to put in writing that my government employees work on political campaigns and mix their government work with my law office," Moreno said.
Moreno said Lively was attempting to retaliate because he fired her for what he called "unethical behavior" and for attempting to use her county position for personal gain.
"She's lashing out at me," Moreno said. "I couldn't take her conduct any longer. It was bad. It was really bad."
Moreno said as one example that she used his name in an attempt to get a favor from a suburban mayor, a claim Lively denied.
Lively said she didn't speak out earlier because she spent the first six months after she was fired trying to get another county job, without success. She said she decided to come forward because she was disappointed that Todd Stroger, a Democrat and the son of former board President John Stroger, beat Republican Tony Peraica for the president's seat.
Lively, 45, worked as an assistant to Schumann for five years. After Schumann lost in the 2002 Republican primary to Elizabeth Gorman, Lively began looking for another county job. Moreno hired her.
Lively said Schumman, a longtime friend of her husband, never asked her to do any political work. After going to work for Moreno, she noticed a difference almost immediately.
At that time, Moreno was mounting his second, ultimately unsuccessful run for Cicero town president. She said Moreno asked her to compile the records of the political donations made to his campaign fund that had to be filed with the state elections board.
In an ongoing list she kept to document her tasks, Lively wrote that two of Moreno's county workers were spending "100 percent of their time" on Moreno's political campaign--a claim Moreno denies.
In one memo, dated May 14, 2003, after the election, Moreno asked Lively to write a thank-you letter to a supporter.
"JMM said to type it on `Not Paid For At Taxpayers Expense' letterhead," Lively wrote, using Moreno's initials. "I broke the law by typing this on County time and for using a County stamp."
In addition to e-mailing documents to the Tribune and the Sun-Times, Lively said, she also mailed copies to the U.S. attorney's office. Agents interviewed her at her home in southwest suburban Justice on Monday afternoon.
The federal government is conducting an investigation into hiring practices at the county under the offices of the board president. Gerald Nichols, John Stroger's patronage chief, is on paid suspension, pending an internal investigation into allegations of hiring irregularities.
Lively estimated that she spent half of her workday trying to get jobs as favors for people who helped Moreno politically. She kept detailed lists of people and the type of work they sought and matched it up when job opportunities at the county became available.
Nichols' name does not appear on the list, Lively said, because he had instructed her to keep his name off after seeing it once. Instead, under the heading for "Contact," Lively wrote "upstairs" in reference to Nichols.
Nichols declined to comment Friday.
Contacts for government jobs controlled by other elected officials are listed too. Lively also wrote memos to document Moreno's meetings with Nichols and Stroger.
Moreno said the lists were either fabricated or were not authorized by him, noting that his signature does not appear on any of the documents.
Moreno said that when he met with Stroger about jobs, it was always at Stroger's request and came about typically when Stroger was seeking bilingual job applicants. Moreno is one of two Hispanic county commissioners.
Lively said she sold tickets to Stroger's spring political fundraiser at the Drake Hotel while on county time. She said Moreno took 20 tickets from Stroger each year and gave them to Lively to sell. "He'd give them to me and tell me to sell his 20 tickets," Lively said.
Moreno said he never directed Lively to sell the tickets.
"Under no circumstances did I give her tickets to sell on county time," Moreno said.
Said Lively: "He can say what he wants. I know the truth."