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Sheriff’s shining example

Friday, December 03, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
by Sun Times editorial staff

Some things go on forever in Chicago. The Cubs lose. The expressways remain under construction. Local government is in the courts, fighting about political hiring and firing.

Until Thursday, that is. That’s when a federal judge ruled that the Cook County sheriff’s office had slayed the patronage dragon.

Could Chicago finally be ready for reform?

Forty-one years ago, lawyer Michael Shakman filed a lawsuit over patronage hiring in local government by the Democratic Machine. The decades since have seen a string of consent decrees, court-appointed monitors and broken promises. Seventeen public offices still are being sued.

But when Tom Dart took over four years ago, he made clean hiring a priority. It wasn’t easy. The hiring systems were a mess and a demoralizing patronage culture dominated. But Dart and his top aides hunkered down to rewrite the rules for his 7,000 workers. The result: A court-appointed monitor said Dart’s “effort is unmatched by any other.”

Dart’s office alone has spent $5.1 million since 2008 to comply with Shakman requirements. That line item on your tax bill is now gone. And new, professional personnel policies are already motivating good employees and ending political protection for bad ones. It’s not perfect, nor will it ever be. But it’s a big step forward.

Because Dart took on the patronage battle from the get-go, he didn’t have to defend the old practices.

Cook County is about to get a new board president, and Chicago a new mayor. Dart’s success should inspire them to seize the moment as well.



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