When Who You Know Just Won't Work

It helps if you know someone who knows someone when you want to get a job somewhere, right?

I've benefitted from that in nearly every job I've ever had. When I started babysitting, my older sisters and mom vouched for me with the neighbors. My brother helped me out when I needed work one college summer. My professors recommended me and paved the way for me with internships, fellowships and that first job as a night cop reporter at the Daily Herald.

That's the way it works in the world. I get it.

But that's just not the way it's supposed to work in government. Even if it seems unfair. Taxpayers who are footing the bills want to know and trust that people are being hired on skill and merit, period. That they're being given promotions based on performance. And too often in Illinois government it does work that way. Lately, it can seem like nothing but nepotism in the headlines. Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs, according to one dictionary I consulted.

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan is in the hot seat because ex-Metra CEO Alex Clifford claims Madigan and other state legislators tried to get certain people hired or promoted. The latest Metra revelation is that state Rep. Luis Arroyo was accused by Clifford of trying to push him into hiring a Latino for a key Metra opening. And that state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez's husband, Charles, was supervised at Metra by Arroyo's daughter, Denise, Clifford claims.

I'm sure some great investigative reporters now are scrambling to get their hands on the list of all Metra employees to see just how many of them are connected to public officials.

And, of course, we all know that Attorney General Lisa Madigan got more than your average boost from dad, when she first ran for the job as the state's top lawyer. Is she qualified? Sure. Has she done a good job? Many people think so. Would she have won without dad's help? Maybe. Maybe not.

Last week, I noted that nepotism helped bring us Rod Blagojevich and state Rep. Deborah Mell, who may soon be replacing her dad, Dick, as the next Chicago Alderman Mell.

But that's not the only nepotism news lately. Madigan's Metra maneuvers have been overshadowing some others. In Cook County government, the unapologetic king of nepotism is Cook County Assessor Joe Berrrios, who also serves as chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

He moved to assessor from the Cook County Board of Review and brought plenty of friends and family with him. He fired 11 employees when he took over so they could be replaced with his son, his sister and a lawyer friend, among others. A federal court monitor ruled those fired deserve some compensation as a result of "unlawful political discrimination" so Cook County board members voted last week to make Cook County residents foot the bill for the $500,000 settlement to be paid to those who were fired to make room for Berrios' family and friends.

The county actually has anti-nepotism laws, but Berrios has insisted they don't apply to him. He's not alone in greasing the way for relatives in Cook County. Did you hear the latest on Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough? She hired her niece. The Chicago Tribune reports they believe the niece is Chloe Pedersen, who works as legal counsel to Yarbrough and makes $114,622 a year. County inspector general Patrick Blanchard recommended the niece be fired, but like Berrios, Yarbrough said the inspector general has no authority over her. Her niece, she said, has "the best qualifications."

I'm sorry but if she had the absolute best qualifications, she would not be working for the recorder. She'd be working at a top Chicago law firm making even more money than that.

And therein lies the problem with hiring based on who you know in government. We taxpayers foot the bills and we just don't trust that politicians are hiring on merit. So many in government and politics now and for so many years before have demonstrated over and over again that who you know trumps what you know and what you can do.

That might work with money and jobs in the private sector, but not with our tax money. State Rep. Jack Franks acknowledged as much in an interview last week even as he was defending Speaker Madigan as someone who doesn't break the law.

Would you acknowledge that a call from the Speaker of the House about giving someone a raise isn't like me calling someone about giving them a raise, I asked? "I never make that call, first of all," he said.

Exactly, Representative. And neither should anyone else.

Do you agree? Are you ready to say enough to nepotism, cronyism and clout? Join us to speak up here for an end to corruption.

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