Monitoring of Forest Preserve, Once a Patronage 'Dumping Ground,' To End

By Ted Cox on February 5, 2013 6:32pm 

 Backed by Forest Preserve Superintendent Arnold Randall, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announces the agency's release from the Shakman suit.
Backed by Forest Preserve Superintendent Arnold Randall, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announces the agency's release from the Shakman suit.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The Forest Preserve District — once a patronage "dumping ground" — has become the second Cook County agency to escape the well-known Shakman decrees limiting political hiring.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier found the forest-preserve administration in "substantial compliance" with the court-imposed Shakman decrees limiting such hiring and dismissed it from the longstanding suit.

"It's no secret that the Forest Preserve District in particular was known as a dumping ground for patronage hires," said County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in announcing the decision Tuesday. "When I took office two years ago, I pledged that the Forest Preserve District and Cook County would root out political favoritism in hiring and employment decisions. The corrupt practices of the past were unfair to the taxpayers of this county, who picked up the tab. They were unfair to qualified applicants, who never had a chance to interview for open positions. And they were unfair to many good, hard-working employees, who were denied promotions."

Forest Preserve District Superintendent Arnold Randall said when he took the post two years ago, the hiring process was an "embarrassment" and "clearly not set up to hire qualified candidates, but rather the politically connected. That is all changed."

Shakman Compliance Administrator Jan Carlson confirmed the agency had achieved open, transparent hiring based on equality and fair testing.

"The corrupt practices of the past cannot and will not happen again," Preckwinkle said.

"We believe this process can serve as a model for all government agencies in their own efforts to achieve substantial compliance with the Shakman decrees," Randall said, adding that the Forest Preserve District had spent $4.7 million just over the last four years on Shakman compliance.

The county and the City of Chicago remain under the Shakman decrees and spend millions of dollars a year on compliance and a bureaucracy that monitors political hiring. The Sheriff's Office under Tom Dart was the first agency to extricate itself from the suit two years ago by showing substantial compliance.

Michael Shakman, who initially filed the discrimination suit against the city and county in 1969, joined in filing the motion to have the forest preserve dismissed.

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