Judge brings the hammer down
By Rob Olmstead Daily Herald Staff Writer
Wed Aug 3, 9:23 AM ET
Fool the public, shame on you. Fool a federal judge, and there will be consequences.
Judge Wayne R. Anderson appointed a monitor Tuesday to oversee hiring by the city of Chicago. The monitor has sweeping powers, up to and including signing off on every single hire by the city.
The order came in the wake of revelations by federal prosecutors - and the guilty plea of a top former city official, Donald Tomczak - that City Hall routinely faked the interview process mandated by a federal decree since 1972. The decree required that merit, not political considerations, be taken into account in hiring for city and county jobs.
The plaintiff who inspired that decree, attorney Michael Shakman, was present in court to watch the judge bring down his iron fist on the city, albeit in the velvet glove of praise for other things Mayor Richard M. Daley has gotten right.
"I share Mr. Shakman's disappointment and, I'm sure, (Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara) Georges' disappointment (with) the apparently incorrect view we had of the way things were going (with hiring) lo these many years." Anderson said.
The revelation hurts all the more, Anderson said, in light of the great condition of the city.
"Crime is down. Trees have been planted," the judge said.
But in light of the apparent egregious violations, Anderson said he could not honor Georges' request for a 90-day waiting period while the city revamps its own hiring policy - something Shakman noted has been done before without success.
"I am not willing to sit here and just let time pass without addressing these problems," Anderson said.
"When you read through the criminal complaints ... and the pleas that have been entered, the sense of violation is almost overwhelming," said Anderson in ordering the monitor. "I certainly am going to have to look more carefully at representations made in the future by the city in this case."
Anderson is not connected with the criminal case but is the presiding judge in the civil case filed by Shakman in 1969.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip A. Guentert asked Anderson in a letter to restrict the monitor's investigative powers to document production while avoiding interviews of current or former city officials, lest the monitor interfere with the ongoing federal investigation.
Anderson declined to restrict the monitor but encouraged her to focus, for now, on fixing the hiring practice rather than investigating what has occurred.
"No good, at least at this point, is going to be done by me looking backward," Anderson said. But he made clear that at some point, that will occur, because he has to deal with Shakman's request that city officials and Mayor Daley, personally, be held in contempt of court.
Anderson said the key to reforming hiring at City Hall would be choosing people of integrity to run it. The problems have come about, he believes, because of high-level city officials' sense of loyalty to the mayor.
"Any time loyalty ... floats above integrity, one makes a substantial misjudgment," he said. "The monitor's loyalty is to the law."
That monitor, Noelle C. Brennan, and her staff will be paid by the city, Anderson ordered.
Although he acknowledged that was a significant cost, Anderson said "it's probably less than a contentious, prolonged discovery" that normally occurs in civil suits.
After the order, Georges said she had "absolutely no problem whatsoever" with the judge's decision, but insisted there was no systemic problem at City Hall.
"I have not found any evidence of a pervasive and systemic problem," she said.
That pronouncement came in spite of the U.S. attorney's allegation that candidates with clout were hired over those without. In some cases, prosecutors charge, candidates with clout were hired after missing interviews, scoring poorly on tests or even being dead.
And Georges' pronouncement outside court conflicted somewhat with what she told the judge just a few minutes earlier.
"We have serious concerns about how pervasive the problems are," she said in court.
Shakman, while declining to criticize Georges for vigorously representing the city, made it clear he didn't agree with her conclusions.
"No reasonable person could come to any other conclusion than the conclusion the (prosecutors) have come to," he said.
And he said it was not going too far to lay responsibility at Daley's feet by holding him personally in contempt.
"How could this have happened if Mayor Daley didn't know about it?" he asked.
Whether the mayor personally directed it is another matter, he noted.
Anderson ordered all the parties to reconvene at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 6 so he could hear what needed to be done from the monitor.