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Monitor notes hiring problems linger

Thursday, July 26, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

A court-appointed monitor assigned to be a watchdog on county hiring says she has received hundreds of complaints about patronage workers slacking on the job.
But, added Julia Nowicki, a former Cook County judge, the reports are just complaints that have not yet had an airing or been verified.
Nowicki made the remarks in a semiannuual written report delivered Wednesday to a federal judge. It noted some progress in hiring procedures but said an independent desk audit of all the jobs held in the county is necessary to see who's working and who's just loafing under the protection of a political patron.
She also recommended that so-called exempt positions -- or those where the president can hire and fire at will -- be publicized by employee name. Nowicki did not cite it specifically, but critics have complained that administrators sometimes hire people to an exempt position and then shift them to a non-protected position to get around anti-political hiring safeguards.
"Thus far, the (compliance administrator's) requests for transparency have been met with mixed results," noted Nowicki. "The county has agreed to place on its Web site the list of exempt positions by department. Unfortunately, it has declined to post the names of the individuals holding the particular position."
A spokeswoman for Board President Todd Stroger could not be reached Wednesday.
Nowicki also expressed concern that since she's taken office, the county has unilaterally changed the position descriptions of 28 exempt positions allowed under a court decree. The county should have gone to the court for permission before it did that, Nowicki said. When confronted, the county agreed to do so in the future, Nowicki said.

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