Sheriff 1st to comply with Chicago patronage ban

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One agency on Thursday became the first to be declared free, or mostly free, of political patronage that’s so tarnished Chicago government for decades.

CHICAGO (AP) — One agency on Thursday became the first to be declared free, or mostly free, of political patronage that’s so tarnished Chicago government for decades. A federal judge deemed Cook County Sheriff’s office in "substantial compliance" with a decree that makes it illegal to hire and fire city employees for political reasons. "It sends a message," U.S. Presiding Magistrate Sidney Schenkier said at a hearing in Chicago. "It says very plainly: This is not impossible, this can be done." Schenkier said he hoped other city offices and departments would follow suit. One consequence of winning the court’s confidence is that the sheriff’s office won’t have to devote as much manpower or money to political patronage issues, Sheriff Tom Dart said. The decree that bars politics playing a role in employment is named after attorney Michael L. Shakman, who began a crusade in 1969 to destroy the city’s entrenched patronage system. A landmark lawsuit he filed 41 years ago led to the federal court order called the Shakman decree banning political patronage. It also led to the creation of a court-appointed monitor to ensure compliance. Under terms of Thursday’s order, the sheriff’s office is expected to be dropped from the list of defendants in Shakman’s decades-old lawsuit. The judge praised Dart’s commitment to end patronage after he became sheriff in 2006. Actions Dart took included inviting independent scrutiny of the office’s hiring practices and appointing staff solely devoted to ensuring compliance. Not everyone agreed with the judge’s decision. Attorneys for several dozen sheriff’s office employees told Schenkier on Thursday they had concerns politics was still playing some role in hiring and firing. But Schenkier said that wasn’t grounds to hold off with the declaration, saying there were still avenues to address instances of political influence. "The office is not required to be perfect," the judge said. "Substantial compliance is just that — substantial. It’s not perfect." For weeks, Dart was viewed as a strong potential candidate for Chicago’s upcoming mayoral election. But he surprised many observers by announcing in October that he wouldn’t run. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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