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News from President Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County requires employees to log political contacts

Cook County requires employees to log political contacts
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced that the County and Forest Preserve District will require employees to log contacts from elected officials regarding certain employment actions. President Preckwinkle was joined by Inspector General Patrick Blanchard, Cook County Shakman Compliance Administrator Mary Robinson, and Cook County Forest Preserve District Shakman Compliance Administrator Jan Carslson.

As part of the County’s effort to achieve substantial Shakman Compliance, the County reinstated the logging of political contacts as it relates to Shakman covered employment actions. In 1998, the Cook County Plan of Compliance filed with the Northern District Court of Illinois required the County, members of interview teams and any other person participating in employment decisions to log political contacts. However, the County never formalized the political log process nor created a specific log form.

In order to further the goal of eliminating unlawful political discrimination in government and to foster a transparent, honest and fair employment process, Cook County, the Health System and the Forest Preserve District worked with the Office of the Inspector General and the Compliance Administrators to both create the log form and formalize the process.

“This is a major transparency initiative. For too long, the County failed to meet the mandates outlined in the Shakman Decree. Both the County and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County have been involved in very public investigations into hiring practices. This is a step toward ending the County’s history of political favors and backroom deals,” Preckwinkle said.

The new Political Contact Log documents will be reviewed and put in a database that will be maintained by the Cook County Office of the Inspector General.
Pat Blanchard applauded the President’s commitment to eliminating political influence from the government process. “I am appreciative of the leadership and support of President Preckwinkle and her office in advancing the political contact log process.  Without the sincere commitment from the top, this process would be destined for failure,” said Blanchard.

“The political contact log is an important advancement in freeing government from unlawful political influence in its operations.  The process that is being put into place will serve to institutionalize the constitutional ideal that political influence has no place in certain aspects of government.”

This process is not being put into place to deter political officials from carrying out their official duties.  It is important to note that not every political contact is an unlawful contact. Nevertheless, all contacts by or on behalf of a politically-related person or organization regarding an employment action involving a non-exempt employee or non-exempt job applicant must be logged. The Log serves as notification and an official record of any applicable employment contacts received from a politically-related person or organization.

The form requires that employees report the name of the person making the contact, their address and other information, the method by which they were contacted, the name of the employee or applicant referenced, the position applied for an the employment action referenced. The document that is put on file must also be signed and dated.

To ensure compliance, all employees, regardless of whether they hold exempt or non-exempt positions, will be required to report any contact they have with any political person or organization, or with any individual acting on behalf of a political person or organization if that contact involves an attempt to inquire about or affect an employment action involving an applicant or employee who is applying for or holds a non-exempt position.

“Properly enforced, this is one of the strongest supports the County can give workers who are attempting to avoid or deflect unlawful political pressure.  I especially applaud this President for agreeing to comply with the logging provisions on the same terms as all other County employees and elected officials.  Her personal commitment sets the right example for all in County government,” said Mary Robinson, Shakman Compliance Officer for Cook County.

Preckwinkle said that key County employees will begin meeting for training sessions that outline how they will be required to file the new uniform contact log. A copy of the log will be distributed with paychecks beginning Friday, April 22. A copy of the log will also be placed on the County Web site (www.cookcountyil.gov).