Friday, April 9, 2010

It’s the stupid stunts that cause problems

To listen to the city investigators, an attorney from Denver who was brought to Chicago to eliminate the conditions that allow for improper hiring for city goverrnment jobs committed some wrongdoing in that area themselves.

Anthony Boswell served a 30-day suspension for allegedly mishandling a sexual harassment complaint filed by an intern, and now investigators are saying he also oversaw the hiring of three people whose city jobs were never posted in accordance with guidelines meant to give all qualified people a chance to apply for the job.

YET WHAT IS it that has the Chicago Sun-Times all worked up this week about Boswell?

The newspaper reported Thursday that Boswell hired a consultant to help him with his job as head of the Office of Compliance. When that consultant turned out to be a Latino, the newspaper reported that Boswell had the consultant do double-duty and provide him with lessons in the Spanish language.

Did hiring watchdog use city cash to learn Spanish?,” reads (,CST-NWS-boswell08.article) the Sun-Times headline.

It never fails to amaze me how the things that get political people caught up in the appearance of “corruption” are so trivial on the surface.

DO WE REALLY want to think that it is a bad thing that a Chicago city official – seeing that one-quarter of the city’s population has ethnic origins in a Latin American nation (one of every six Chicagoans these days has origins specifically in Mexico) – would think he might be more useful if he boosted his language skills en Español?

If anything, that might be a point in hisfavor. Not that I’m saying his job (he already has offered a resignation that is to take effect May 31) ought to be spared because he can habla palabras poquitos in badly-accented Spanish.

Then again, there are times I wonder whether many Chicagoans’ command of the English language ought to be considered “foreign.” I doubt Boswell’s Spanish sounded any more absurd than some of the ramblings that have come from the mouth of Hizzoner Jr. – Richard M. Daley.

Now I can already hear the people who are about to adopt the mantle of good government types and claim there is a principle at stake here. If Boswell wants to bolster his Spanish-speaking skills, he ought to do so on his own time and pay for that tutoring with his own money.

NOT THAT IT can be said for sure how much money these language lessons accounted for.

The Sun-Times reported that the man who was providing Boswell with a Spanish booster course was part of a law firm that had a $150,000 consulting contract with the Office of Compliance. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that much of that money was for legitimate work.

Then again, when it comes to government consulting contracts, the definition of “legitimate” work can be fluid enough to include whatever city officials say should be legitimate.

What I find interesting about this situation are the details that come out in the bottom inches of the Sun-Times report. For it seems that is where we get to the more serious details of potential wrong-doing.

PUTTING SPANISH LESSONS on top almost seems like a way of getting a cheap, tittilating headline – one that may even irk the portion of the Chicago population that has its hangups about anything related to the fact that Latinos are expected to account for about one-third of Chicago by 2020 (and one-third of the nation by 2050).

I still remember a couple of years ago when the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about international interest in the Chicago Bears football team and had a front-page headline in several languages – including Spanish. What I recall were the reader comments that criticized the newspaper for including the Spanish language at all – with one reader I remember saying its presence in this country was completely offensive.

Is this story trying to appeal to those same sensibilities – tax dollars being wasted on Spanish? Perhaps if he had taken Polish lessons, that would have been acceptable!

The thing is that Boswell’s story doesn’t neet this cheap angle, when there are so many others that could be highlighted. After all, Boswell claims the reason he is being singled out by all these reports is that he says he did his job and prevented Corporation Counsel Mara Georges from controlling the hiring practices in such a manner that the daughter of a Georges colleague would have got a city job that she was not qualified for.

HE OPENLY CALLS all this legal activity to get rid of him “a retaliation campaign.”

Then again, Boswell was one of those people with political influence who tried to use their authority to get their school-age children into the better schools maintained by the Chicago Public Schools (no matter what they will officially claim, not all public schools in Chicago are created equal). He doesn’t come off as “Mr. Innocent” in all of this, although neither do other city officials.

So we have a lot of back-and-forth political squabbling, along with reports of allegations that toss out the words “sexual harassment” and “intern.” That is enough serious material to dig into without having to get too excited about whether or not Boswell wanted to learn to speak Spanish better than Steve Martin used to in his old stand-up comedy routine where he would absurdly ask, “¿Donde està el casa de pipi?”


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