Saturday, September 11, 2010

No political hiring in Cook County Govt?

I’m sure that soon-to-be-former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and his minions will dig out that old cliché about “comparing apples to oranges” to criticize me for the following commentary.

But I couldn’t help but snicker at reading the news reports Friday that said Stroger had 157 violations of the rules that currently prevent government hiring based on political criteria.

BECAUSE I STILL remember vividly a moment that occurred at a Cook County Board meeting almost a year ago to the date, when Stroger self-righteously insisted that there was no political hiring within county government under his watch.

Of course, nobody believed it back when he said it. So we’re not shocked now to learn that Michael Shakman, the man whose life (and name) has been devoted to the idea of undermining the concept of “we don’t want nobody nobody sent,” is saying under oath in open court that there have been 13 dozen (plus one) violations of the law.

So who’s right? It seems like it is a very technical question that the courts are going to resolve.

Because attorneys for Stroger, including the daughter of one-time Cook County Commissioner Ted Lechowicz, says that none of the hires involved in this case are true violations of rules against politically motivated hiring.

THERE IS A degree to which an elected official should be able to have certain positions filled with people whose political loyalty is toward himself (or herself, depending on the official’s gender).

Laura Lechowicz Felicione argued in court this week that these 157 people are in positions that should fall under such a category, but that officials are still in the process of finishing work on a list of exactly which jobs can be filled for political reasons.

“I don’t think we have violated the ban,” she told the Chicago Tribune. Which means this is about technicalities.

For the record, the compliance administrator who is heading a team of people that is supposed to be working out all those technicalities said the problem is that county officials, including Stroger, don’t seem to be in any hurry to finish the list – which makes the situation deliberately vague.

OF COURSE, IT was this same administrator who, when she said last year that it was possible for systems to be “manipulated” so that one could not definitively say which county employees were political hires and which were truly legitimate workers who benefitted the public, got Stroger to make his snippy little remarks – which included his utterly-laughable claim that, “we (the county) don’t use clout in” human resources.

Which makes the bottom line on this issue one that we will have many more years of litigation. It also probably means a reality that we will never be able to fully eliminate the idea that someone got a job on a government payroll because of who they knew.

Now I know that reality will offend some people who want to think we can have an ideal world where everybody who bothers to work on a public payroll does so out of a sense of wanting to do “the people’s business” instead of trying – first and foremost – to earn a living for themselves.

It is just that I can comprehend why someone who gets elected to office wouldn’t want to have huge amounts of people doing the actual scut work of implementing his/her policies into practice who don’t necessarily agree – and might even think they are there to undermine “the boss.”

CONSIDERING ALSO THAT I once held a job while still in college working on the Cook County payroll (the summer of 1986, with the Recorder of Deeds office, because I knew someone who knew then-Rich Township Democratic Committeeman Lee Conlon), I can understand that connections don’t always work in sordid ways.

If anything, one of the factors I always take into account whether considering a candidate for my vote is to figure what kind of people he/she would bring along with them – assuming they were to win office and start using the perks of having control over jobs.

Candidates who seem to attract lazy slugs who are only interested in a government job because they think they won’t have to actually work are the ones who have trouble getting my vote.

Those candidates who manage to put a batch of their friends on the government payroll (which there is ample evidence that Stroger has done) are the ones who create an issue that their opponents can use against them.

WHICH MEANS THAT while I understand why people who are among Shakman’s biggest supporters get worked up over the thought of political hiring, I have my own troubles with the concept of restricting it largely for the same reason why I think those people who go about screaming “term limits!” are not thinking the issue through.

One of the reasons why Stroger came in fourth in a four-way Democratic primary despite having all the familial advantages that should have made him a government official-for-life is that voters thought he overdid the political hiring thing.

He lost. That is the ultimate punishment for a politician, moreso than any sanctions a court might impose.


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