Friday, March 28, 2008

The Coconut Wins a Round

Posted By on 03.28.08 at 05:19 PM

"If you're gonna write a story, make sure you put this in--'Take that, Mayor Daley!'"

The speaker was Frank Coconate, calling to gloat about his big Shakman settlement victory.

Coconate is the former city worker Mayor Daley loves to hate. A northwest-side political activist who blew the whistle on city corruption, Coconate was fired from his job in the Water Department in 2005 on the grounds of "a pattern and practice of serious misconduct."

That firing took place just a few days after he was seen on TV news report sitting in a city truck and wearing a Jesse Jackson Jr. for Mayor button.

The case against Coconate's pretty pathetic, though I can understand why Daley wouldn't want him around. The guy's a major pain in the neck to the mayor, constantly calling reporters to push stories that make Daley and his political puppets, especially those on the northwest side, look bad. 

Coconate's triumph stems from a lawsuit filed almost 40 years ago by Michael Shakman. In 1983, the city settled the case, agreeing to stop considering political influence in personnel decisions. But in 2006, U.S. circuit court judge Wayne Andersen, upset by several patronage-related scandals (PDF), ordered Noelle Brennan, a lawyer, to oversee city hiring. And last year the city agreed to set up a $12 million compensation fund for victims of discrimination.

According to Brennan, she has received 1,528 complaints and awarded about 1,500 settlements.

In September Coconate submitted a claim arguing that he had been denied promotions and overtime work because of his independent political beliefs.

On March 26, Brennan sent him a letter. "I have reviewed your Claim Form along with all supporting documentation you submitted," she wrote. "Your award amount is as follows: $75,000."

That's one of the largest settlements Brennan awarded. (Jay Stone, son of 50th Ward alderman Berny Stone, was also awarded $75,000 in a controversial decision.)

"It must be killing Daley," says Coconate. "'Cause there's nothing they can do about it. They can't appeal it. They gotta pay it. I'd frame the check except I'm broke and I have to cash it."

It may not be the last of his payouts. After the city fired him, Coconate appealed (scroll down) to get his job back. He lost the first round, heard by a city-appointed administrative officer. But he's appealed to the Cook County Circuit Court. If he wins, the city will have to award him back pay -- probably more than $300,000 -- give him his job back, and pay his legal bills.

The money of course will come from property taxes, meaning the public will pay for the games the mayor plays.

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