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Cook County sheriff agrees to Shakman case penalty for political hiring
Sheriff Tom Dart doubts widespread wrongdoing and won't estimate cost to taxpayers

Friday, September 12, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Laurie Cohen

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday moved to end a long-running court case against political hiring, agreeing to a settlement that could stick taxpayers with another bill to cover the costs of patronage.

Under the proposed agreement, a federal judge would appoint a monitor to oversee hiring decisions at the sheriff's office. Dart also agreed to pay an undetermined amount to settle claims of those who lost out on jobs and promotions because of political discrimination since June 2006.

A court hearing on the tentative settlement came a week after Cook County commissioners agreed to spend $3.2 million to settle the claims of more than 100 people who said they were victims of political discrimination in other county jobs.

Mayor Richard Daley's administration earlier this year paid $12 million to settle claims of 1,427 people who suffered from lack of clout.

Both moves were steps to end the decades-old Shakman case that prohibits political influence in most county and city jobs.

Dart said that unlike the city and the
Cook County Board, his office is not facing a federal investigation of its hiring practices. He said he knows of no improper political hiring in the sheriff's office, which has traditionally been regarded as a haven for the politically connected.

Dart said he decided to try to settle the case voluntarily to save money on lawyers' fees and clarify the procedures the office should be following.

"We just didn't want any gray area," Dart said. "We're looking for the most professional people and the best people."

In federal court Thursday, U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen gave preliminary approval to the agreement between Dart and Chicago lawyer Michael Shakman, who has been waging a court battle against patronage since 1969. Andersen praised Dart for being "particularly forthcoming in seeking a settlement."

Neither Dart nor Shakman would estimate how many sheriff's employees have been victims of political discrimination or how much they might be paid.

"I would be very surprised if it was many," Dart said. "During my administration, I would be stunned if there were any."

The office employs about 7,000 people, and about 175 of them are permitted to be political appointees.

Shakman said he hasn't received any complaints about political hiring under Dart, who took office in December 2006. Dart also served for several years as chief of staff to his four-term predecessor, Michael Sheahan.

But Shakman said Dart "inherited an office that has a long history of patronage practices" and that a court-appointed hiring monitor is needed "to see to it that there is a change in that culture."

Shakman also said he is negotiating settlements with the Cook County recorder of deeds and the
Cook County Forest Preserve District.

By the end of October, Andersen is expected to choose a hiring monitor who also would review claims of discrimination against the sheriff's office. The sheriff must then convince the judge that its hiring practices are free from politics in order to end court oversight by as early as August 2010.

The agreement must also by approved by the Cook County Board.

"It's horrible to have to be monitored like this, but it's in the public interest until change takes place," said county Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), vice chairman of a board panel that is scheduled to review the proposal next week.



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