Cook County Board President
Todd Stroger was on the defense yesterday, calling outgoing compliance
officer Julia Nowicki “a little disillusioned” after she reiterated quite forcefully that his administration continues to drag its feet on several court-ordered ...
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was on the defense yesterday, calling outgoing compliance officer Julia Nowicki “a little disillusioned” after she reiterated quite forcefully that his administration continues to drag its feet on several court-ordered recommendations aimed at rooting out patronage.
But while Stroger contends his office is clean -- telling WBEZ’s Richard Steele that, as far as patronage goes, “there is none” -- Nowicki’s long letter to Cook County commissioners this week outlines what the board must do to rein in Stroger’s "friends and family" hiring program.
In the letter, Nowicki explains that she “refrained from outlining the wasteful delays caused by the conduct of certain employees." Even so, there are some telling anecdotes about the way business is done in Cook County.
Take the so-called “Rule of Seven.” For years, the first seven eligible people in the door for an interview got first crack at an available job (a practice that would clearly benefit those with insider connections). Stroger says the practice has been eliminated and job announcements now go out to a wider audience.
But what exactly do these employees do once they’re on the job? It seems like information the county should have one hand, yet they’re still working on pulling together some 4,000 missing job descriptions that list key duties and desired qualifications.
Meanwhile, 500 of those positions are political posts and are therefore exempt from the Shakman decrees. As the Daily Herald noted, Nowicki is urging commissioners to demand better oversight of this pool of employees:
Nowicki also strongly suggested that, while Stroger indeed does have the legal right to hire 500 patronage employees, if those employees aren’t qualified or don’t do the work of those positions, they can still result in Shakman decree violations as Shakman-exempt employees have to do their own work plus their boss’s work. In fact, several county employees were recently awarded cash settlements for such scenarios. [...]
“You should insist on stringent minimum qualifications for these important and highly coveted jobs,” Nowicki wrote. “The Board could create an oversight committee to review the credentials of the exempt employees. Further, this committee could review their work performance.”
Stroger continues to cling to his pitch that “we really don’t have the people or resources to do the things that [Nowicki] would like.” But after two years of apparent foot-dragging, that’s a pretty flimsy response.
As Nowicki rightly points out, it’s not the job of the compliance officer to root out illegal patronage: “It’s your job,” she wrote to the commissioners. With only a handful of Stroger critics on the board, the rebuke ought to be a reminder to the powers that be that taxpayers can’t afford another yes-man to fill Commissioner Mike Quigley’s seat when he presumably heads to Congress later this year.
You can read Nowicki's full letter to Quigley below (click the button in the upper right corner to expand):