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'Illegal' hiring practices called common for county
MONITOR'S REPORT | 'Soldier for Stroger' allegedly boasted of political work

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Special to suffredin.org
by STEVE PATTERSON

As Cook County Board President Todd Stroger prepares to fill hundreds of new jobs delivered to him by the County Board last week, a federal hiring monitor says political patronage continues to hamper county hiring.

In a U.S. District Court filing, monitor Julia Nowicki cites repeated examples among hundreds of claims she's investigating -- including an employee boasting shortly after being hired that he was a "Soldier for Stroger" in the board president's election campaign and would soon be a supervising his co-workers.

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Read the compliance administrator's report

That employee never even applied for the job, she notes, but quickly became a top boss. That person has also been using county fax machines to process orders for political materials, she notes.

Nowicki cites a "need for a comprehensive overhaul" of county hiring, arguing that since Stroger came to office "there has been little change in the status quo."

But county attorney Laura Lechowicz-Felicione cited numerous changes Stroger has made, including a "desk audit" of the Human Resources Department, as well as changes to hiring forms.

"It's a process," Lechowicz-Felicione said. "But it's a process that would move more quickly if we had additional resources."

But Nowicki said supervisors are still "unable or unwilling to discipline" clouted workers, resulting in the "hiring and promotion of unqualified or lesser qualified people," with questionable ways of keeping personnel records for some employees.

She criticized a lack of hiring experience by many working in the county personnel office, adding that some job postings get changed on orders from "downtown," while there are also claims that workers seeking promotion are "blackballed" if they don't do political work.

"Illegal political consideration in employment decisions were common at Cook County," Nowicki wrote. "There is no information or event that has been presented . . . that would indicate that illegal political patronage has been eliminated."

Nowicki filed the 54-page documents Friday, the same day the county board raised the sales tax 1 percentage point in order to balance the budget -- a budget that includes hundreds of new positions.



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