DART’S REFORMS BRING HISTORIC DECLARATION OF SHAKMAN COMPLIANCE
Thursday, December 02, 2010— More than 40 years after a federal lawsuit was filed alleging elected officials in Chicago were improperly using politics to drive decisions on hiring and promotions, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart was found Thursday to be operating an office free from those influences.
The historic agreed order signed by U.S. District Court Presiding Judge Sidney Schenkier is the first of its kind since Michael Shakman and others filed suit in 1969, alleging local governments hired, promoted and fired people based on the amount of campaign work they did for certain political candidates. Since then, more than 50 public offices have been named to the lawsuit, with 17 still actively being sued and none found to be compliant with expected practices. The changes Dart has made to achieve compliance are structured to ensure policies remain in place even if he isn’t sheriff.
Through court filings, a federally-appointed monitor said Dart’s “effort is unmatched by any other” office falling under the Shakman Decree. The steps taken “increase oversight, accountability” and produce “a better, fairer and more functional office,” where “the benefit to the public … while difficult to quantify, is considerable.”
“From the day I took office, I made a commitment to operating an office responsibly - the way the public expects,” Dart said. “I’m incredibly grateful to those who have worked so hard to help us reach this point and hope it instills the kind of confidence among voters and taxpayers that they deserve.”
Retired Cook County Judge Clifford Meacham, appointed in 2008 to serve as the sheriff’s federal monitor, or compliance administrator, shared in praising all involved in the case and the cooperation and commitment displayed by both sides, as well as the guidance provided by Judge Schenkier and retired U.S. District Court Judge Wayne Andersen, who previously presided over the case.
“One of the keys to the success of this assignment was the sheriff’s cooperation and support in all phases of this effort,” Judge Meacham said. “Sheriff Dart personally participated in training and made it clear to all personnel that compliance was a priority of his. Doing so, went far towards achieving a Shakman compliant office.”
As part of the agreed order, Dart welcomed Shakman to continue monitoring 22 pending investigations being carried out by the Office of Professional Review – an independent office established by Dart to carry out internal investigations. Dart sought counsel from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, FBI Chicago Director Robert Grant and former Illinois Inspector General Z. Scott, among others, before appointing a series of highly regarded state and federal officials to head that agency. Shakman will monitor the cases until the end of January, at which time the sheriff would be entirely dismissed from the case, freeing taxpayers from continuing to fund Shakman monitoring.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office first entered into a consent decree with Shakman in 1980, agreeing to refrain from using politics to influence employment decisions. But four years ago, the sheriff’s office invited Shakman in to thoroughly examine the office’s personnel operations to gauge the level of adherence to those standards. That led to Judge Meacham’s appointment and Dart dedicated staff solely to work with Judge Meacham and Shakman on achieving compliance with the decree and maintaining it. Of 7,000 sheriff’s employees, Dart can appoint only 172 – all others are to be hired accordance with policies of the Shakman Decree.
In a review that stretched back to 2006, monitors found no evidence of substantiated claims of political discrimination by the Dart administration. A January 2010 filing by the monitor made note “with confidence that the sheriff’s office does not field a political patronage army.” The monitor did note concern about a lack of clear written policies or procedures in the sheriff’s office, which could lead to politics being used during employment decisions, adding that “the level of disorganization and inconsistency which confronted (Dart when he took office poses a) continuing challenge.”
That led Dart to commit resources to develop a series of changes in how the office operates. Judge Meacham and his staff sat in on thousands of hiring and promotion interviews and after finding no influence of politics on the decision-making process, provided feedback for improving the process, which Dart followed. Among those recommendations was hiring a compliance officer who will continue to monitor employment practices at the sheriff’s office. Dart vowed to continue to pursue recommendations to increase personnel and improve technology to continue adherence to the shared focus with Shakman on accountability, transparency and good government.
Dart earlier won praise from Schenkier for being “willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work necessary to move the office to where it is now” and going beyond the basics to make improvements.
“Dart has made compliance with the Shakman principles a priority not just in words, but in actions,” Judge Schenkier said this summer. “He has … gone beyond the minimum to create an office that will be free of political influence that’s improper and he is to be congratulated for the commitment that he has demonstrated and the accomplishments thus far.” He added “it’s a message to all the other (Shakman) defendants” that compliance “is not an impossible goal” and that Dart’s actions give “everyone a roadmap as to the kinds of things that will allow” other offices to achieve compliance.