Back in the day, city employees from garbage collectors on up were hired and promoted for political work. Literally, garbage collectors had to bring in campaign cash or get fired. Mike Shakman and a group of other lawyers sued the city in 1969, and doggedly stayed after the city in scandal after scandal since.
Why do you care? An enduring puzzle to me, as a macroeconomist, and hence not particularly expert on political questions, is how do governments ever become clean and competent, or stay that way? We economists tend to throw up our hands, say "public choice" or "rent-seeking" and then assume regulators will always be captured and governments always corrupt. But that's empirically not true. Some governments and government institutions are remarkably honest and efficient, at least by libertarian economists' cynical expectations. How do they do it? What's the machinery? How do you fight corruption? This is one concrete example worth studying of just such machinery.
it is realistic to expect and recognize that the city has put in place the systems and the people and the commitment to clean up its act.And the judge
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier declared the city in “substantial compliance” with a set of rules, procedures and internal policing requirements to keep politics out of hiring.So it is possible to set up bureaucracy to police bureaucracy -- if the people at the top (Emanuel) find it in their best interests to do so.
The judge noted that Chicago has put in place procedures governing hiring, firing, promotions, discipline, overtime and the like that are designed to remove the influence of politics from those decisions. It also has set up an internal policing process, under the auspices of the Department of Human Resources and the inspector general's office.
It's not a magic bullet, and requires perserverance:
“None of us think there will never be another example of patronage hiring in the city or public employment influenced by patronage,” Shakman said. “That's unrealistic to expect,...
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier ..cautioned that “substantial compliance does not mean the city has achieved a state of perfection.”Part of the machinery is dedicated lawyers like Shakman, who bring about such important change, at not inconsiderable cost. Fighting the machine for 42 years is not good career advice for a Chicago lawyer. Another part of the machinery is our local newspapers, who have pretty much supported the process all along. A sadder part of the machinery is Federal law. Local corruption is most often fought by Federal lawsuits and Federal prosecutions. That leaves open the question, how do we fight Federal corruption?
Killing off patronage is “not a revolutionary process, but an evolutionary one — it happens over time,” said Schenkier, the seventh judge to preside over the case.
Disclosure: Mike is a friend, neighbor, and fellow glider pilot, so I'm also personally glad to see his efforts recognized here and by a University of Chicago Distinguished Alumnus Award.