As disturbing as Ballard's affirmative action plan for MBEs and WBEs is, I'm equally appalled by his affirmative action hiring plan for ex-offenders. Many of you might be shocked to learn that Ballard's administration has set aside 10% of all positions filled by the city to persons who have criminal histories. At a recent Mayor's Night Out Meeting on the City's Southeastside, Ballard said, "This has been a big emphasis for the City. As soon as we got in we knew this was a point the city was not addressing it properly, we knew this was a piece we were going to have to do, we knew we were really going to have to step up the game . . . We're walking the talk. We hire them in the city . . . I'll bet most of you had no clue how much was going on in this area? [insert jaw-dropping faces of shocked audience members in attendance]. He continued, "It's rather dramatic, and it's a real game-changer."
I certainly had no knowledge the City was setting aside 10% of its new jobs for persons with criminal histories. I knew Ballard hired a convicted felon as his deputy mayor for neighborhoods and had a convicted armed robber standing behind him as a proud supporter at his re-election announcement, but I had no idea he had an affirmative action plan for hiring ex-cons. I contacted the person in charge of the program, Maxine Bryant. "Yes, in 2010 10% of new hires for City positions were persons with criminal histories," Bryant told me. I asked her what criteria and restrictions the City used in determining whether to hire someone with a criminal record. She responded, "I don't know those answers. I do know they are screened very carefully and are given a urine test for drug use." She added, "The final decision rests with the supervisor. Of course, persons are not considered for positions that are related to their crimes." That's comforting. Bryant said the majority of the positions have been with the Department of Public Works, solid waste and fleet management.
An enterprising reporter, which I realize we have few of left in this town, should actually dig deeper into those hires. The Chicago Sun-Times' Frank Main recently researched the background of persons hired under a similar program run by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and was surprised by what he learned:
One of them smuggled cocaine from Jamaica about a decade ago. Another was a carjacker. A third was convicted in the shooting of two Chicago cops in the 1970s, hitting one of them in the face.In the interest of transparency and public accountability, I would like to see a list of all these persons made publicly available, including the crimes they committed and the jobs they hold. If Sheriff Layton can send out an alert to my neighborhood when a sex offender moves nearby, surely Mayor Ballard can provide us more information on the ex-cons he is hiring for city jobs.
They are among 139 people who got hired by the City of Chicago over the past two years despite having been convicted of crimes. That’s according to a list of all of the city’s hires of ex-cons in 2009 and 2010 obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Mayor Daley has said ex-offenders deserve a second chance and has made that his policy at City Hall.
Those hired under that policy include one person convicted of a crime who’d been on the “clout list” that was made public during the trial of Daley’s former patronage chief, Robert Sorich. Sorich went to prison after being convicted in federal court in 2006 of overseeing an illegal hiring scheme that gave city jobs and promotions to people with clout.
“Of course I needed clout to get on,” acknowledged the ex-con, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.