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Maybe we should tax patronage.

Sunday, October 07, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

You'd have to be pretty naive to think patronage is extinct in local government. But sheesh, do
politicians have to be so obvious about it?

Just last month, Cook County Commissioner William Beavers -- the self-proclaimed "hog with the big nuts" -- insisted that "there is no more patronage. The county has been cut to the bone." But there apparently was room to add his girlfriend to the payroll -- that is, until Sun-Times reporter Steve Patterson started asking questions last week, and the county and the girlfriend made a "mutual decision to reverse the hire."

And then there's City Hall. Mayor Daley long declared his administration to be free of political hiring and firing. Then his former patronage chief and three others were convicted last year of running what prosecutors called "a corrupt clout machine." And Noelle Brennan, who was appointed to oversee the city's hiring in 2005 by a federal judge who no longer trusted the city, recently reported that the shenanigans continued, even while officials knew they were under her microscope.

Brennan's report argued that the city's inpector general, David Hoffman, should take over for her.

Hoffman already has proved himself to be independent of City Hall and adept at rooting out corruption, so giving him the monitoring job only makes sense. But perhaps because Hoffman has been too adept, and too independent, Daley has instead created a separate Office of Compliance. That's a bit too much like the fox guarding the henhouse, given the city's history of dodging the patronage ban. U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen ultimately will decide who gets the job.

At a time when the city and county are trying to increase taxes, officials should be all the more vigilant about fighting patronage. Taxpayers won't even consider shelling out more money unless they trust their elected officials. And they're not going to trust anyone who declares patronage dead on one hand while feeding patronage with the other.



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