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Editorial: In Shakman ruling, Cook County Forest Preserve District gives patronage the pink slip

Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times

The Cook County forest preserves are finally uprooting a noxious invasive species: the patronage worker. For years, we’ve heard the stories about what was considered one of the county’s premier patronage dumping grounds. The payrolling forest preserve cop who asked to be let out of the patrol car if it was heading toward any trouble spot. The newly hired office worker who asked if she needed to come to work every day. The guy who showed up for a job in trail maintenance, which requires using a chain saw, and announced he wouldn’t use one because he had a bad back. On Tuesday, compliance administrator Jan Carlson said the district would even hire a clerk without bothering to check if the clerk could type. On Monday, though, U.S. District Magistrate Sidney Schenkier said the forest preserve was in “substantial compliance” with a 2009 consent decree based on a 1969 lawsuit by lawyer Michael Shakman that targeted political hiring and firing. As a result, the forest preserve district is the second governmental unit to be dismissed from the lawsuit. The Cook County sheriff, which was cleared in 2011, was the first. Much of the credit goes to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who made a priority of getting politics out of employment decisions. It wasn’t easy. For years, the district didn’t even have a human resources department. But if you checked more recently, you’d see the district had not only created a personnel department but also that the employees were working late night after night to straighten things out. They had to redo job descriptions, document hiring procedures and reorganize the district. It was a big effort. With fewer than 500 employees, the district is far smaller that the county or city governments. But this ruling holds out hope that the county and city also will be able to make patronage hiring a thing of the past.

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