Office of Complacence | Bleader

Friday, September 7, 2007

Office of Complacence

Posted By on 09.07.07 at 05:34 PM

The city's inspector general runs an independent office that investigates charges of corruption. Under a court settlement the city agreed to earlier this year--complemented by an executive order from Mayor Daley--the IG's responsibilities include looking into all new allegations of "unlawful political discrimination in City employment." In other words: flagrant examples of hiring, promotions, and firing based on politics, the kind of thing that led to the convictions last summer of Mayor Daley's patronage boss and three other city workers. 

But the Daley administration and its City Council allies created a new office Wednesday charged with making sure each city department is adhering to that same court settlement. That technically means the new Office of Compliance will be responsible for making sure that there is no "political discrimination in City employment," and that if there is, another office--the inspector general's--will be able to look into it.

Most people seem to find this redundant, but the arrangement's clear to the mayor. "There's a difference between investigations and compliance," he said Wednesday. "This is compliance. No one has violated the law whatsoever dealing with compliance. And that's what you have to have--you have to have a compliance officer, simple as that."

Simple as that.

The ordinance passed the council's Committee on Budget and Government Operations on Tuesday. Committee chairman Carrie Austin said she thought committee members unanimously backed the measure until 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore squawked up, asking for a formal vote. Moore said Austin never slowed up to ask if anyone was opposed. In the end, both agreed that Moore was the only committee member to go on record against the plan.

When Austin introduced the ordinance before the full council Wednesday, Moore cut her off and asked for a chance to speak. Once he had the floor, he ripped into the ordinance, calling it "an end run" around the Shakman decree that prohibits politically driven hiring and firing.

Austin responded on behalf of the mayor. "The inspector general was part of these discussions. Maybe he didn't agree with everything, but he was part of the discussions," she said. "I believe this office will help the city of Chicago and not do harm to it."

The ordinance passed by a 43-6 vote, with Bob Fioretti (2nd), Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Sandi Jackson (7th), and Ricardo Munoz (22nd) joining Moore in opposition. One of Moore's allies said "five or six" other erstwhile "progressives" probably would have voted against the ordinance, but they weren't lobbied to do so by Moore or the other nays.

Afterward, Fioretti told reporters he didn't think the ordinance would pass muster with the federal judge overseeing the Shakman decree. Hairston said it was absurd to create a new department when the city is facing a gaping hole in the budget.

Austin, meanwhile, defended the ordinance by suggesting that the city's record of corrupt hiring practices wasn't really as serious as critics made it out to be. "I believe that with this office, the trouble we may have appeared to have been in--I mean, it didn't look so good for awhile--I think this office will help that," she said.

Another mayoral ally, the 45th Ward's Patrick Levar, expressed concerns about the ordinance for other reasons. "I believe people can be hired on their merits, but I'm not opposed to helping a neighbor, either," Levar said, a longtime upholder of patronage. He said he'd be watching to see if the Office of Compliance was really helpful or just a hindrance to effective hiring. "I'll give them a year and see what they come back with," Levar said.

Daley stuck to his script--literally--when he was asked to elaborate on the difference between ensuring compliance and investigating noncompliance. "This is part of an ongoing effort to ensure that 21st-century taxpayers are getting their money's worth from government," he said.

The mayor was more straightforward when the subject turned to a new law allowing restaurants to welcome dogs to sidewalk cafes. "Many people want to be able to walk their dog to a restaurant," he said.

"Should the dogs be able to order foie gras at a restaurant?" joked Channel 7's Andy Shaw.

"As long as they order a salad," Daley said. "You can order a salad and get foie gras."

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