Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ballard's Affirmative Action Plan For Ex-Offenders

Those of you who have followed my coverage on this issue know how I feel about Mayor Greg Ballard's overly-aggressive emphasis the past four years in expanding opportunities for minority and female-owned businesses. The city forces set-asides for MBEs/WBEs (about 25%) on virtually every government contracting opportunity. The administration boasts of setting goals that leads to nearly $150 million in contract awards to MBEs/WBEs. The forced set-asides lead to overt discrimination against more deserving contractors but is a very effective way of raising money for Ballard's campaign committee. Some of Ballard's largest campaign contributors come from minority and female-owned businesses and their owners. The program is ripe for corruption as many are nothing but fronts for kickbacks to politically-connected individuals with hidden ownership interests in these companies. The process of certification has become highly politicized, particularly after Ballard decoupled the certification process from the state of Indiana's program. This was done to stymie legitimate contractors who aren't a part of the pay-to-play crowd from getting certified to eliminate competition for Ballard's contributors. If federal law enforcement ever bothered to investigate the program like it has in Chicago, you can bet there would be scores of indictments handed down.

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.

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.
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.


Paul K. Ogden said...

You have to be kdding me. He has set aside 10% of jobs in city government for people with criminal histories? I am all for giving people a second chance in life, but that's by looking at each person's idividual circumstances not setting an arbitrary percent to be hired.

Gary R. Welsh said...

It's sickening, Paul. I'm just so ashamed of having anything to do with putting this clown into the mayor's office.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Paul, Haven't you ever watched any of those multiple meetings broadcast on WCTY where Ballard, Olgen, Greg Wilson et al. brag about the percentage goals they are meeting? Minority contracting was the one-trick issue Darla Williams kept haunting Peterson with during the 2007 mayoral election because she wasn't getting her cut. How Ballard could interpret his election as a mandate to take this BS to a whole new level is anyone's guess. There must be payola involved since that seems to be the driving force behind everything his admninistration does.

M Theory said...

Did these people or did they not pay their debt to society by serving time in prison?

One of the sweetest best employees we have where I work got a degree while he was in prison. Our CEO met him at commencement and asked him about his job prospects. He said they were slim to none, even with a degree.

Our CEO hired him and he works in the mailroom. I am proud to call this guy a friend and I'm glad he works with me.

Gary R. Welsh said...

That's fine, Melyssa. But this administration is providing special benefits and opportunities as a reward for their past bad behavior. The message to kids today is to go out and be as bad as you want. It doesn't matter how badly you screw up, the government will give you a free education and training, job grants to employers who hire you, special loan programs to start your businesses, etc. Those who work hard, stay out of trouble and play by the rules can find a way to pay for their own education, stand in line to wait for a job and get turned down by the bank for a loan because there is no special program to reward honest people.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I would agree with AI. I'm all for giving people second chances in life if they earned it. But to arbitrarily set aside 10% of jobs for ex-offenders...that's insane.

Yes, AI, I have seen the meetings where Greg Wilson and Mayor crow about the set-asides for MBE's and WBE's. They actually think blacks will vote for the Mayor because of the MBE set asides. They won't, plus it ticks off Republicans.

Actually, AI, Darla Williams did have a point about MBE's that I'm sure you'd agree with...that there is a small group of politically connected people who get these MBE contracts and they tend to be people who don't need the break. She was also big talking about the phony non-profits that are set up to get government grants and how there is no oversight while money gets misspent on perks for the people running the non-profits rather than going to the people they were supposed to help.

Personal agenda aside, I thought her observations did have some merit.

Cato said...

How about we fire 75% of cops so we won't have so many manufactured criminals?

CircleCityScribe said...

That's just great....Ballard/Straub want 10% of our police force to be convicted criminals.

Gary R. Welsh said...

She didn't say it extended to police hiring, although given the IMPD officer who got convicted in federal court on drug charges, you have to wonder what their background was before becoming police officers.

M Theory said...

He has a college degree and works in the mailroom, not an advanced job.

I cannot even begin to tell you what a delight this man is to be around. He owns what he did, is grateful for his fresh start, and makes the most of it. He's my go-to-guy when I need a favor in that department.

I think there is a balance. If there is nothing out there for ex-offenders, then there is no reason to clean up their lives.

I would rather ex-offenders, who paid their debt, to be employed and leading of a life as an example, than sponging off the taxpayers or returning to a life of crime.

I don't think it is too much to ask to give 10% of our jobs to them.

What I am curious about is what it takes to get one of those jobs. I think those that get the jobs should have to go over and above and prove they are worthy of the second chance.

Ellen said...

It may be a good social engineering idea, but hiring "10% felons" is a stupid political gambit.

Oh, wait, if one is a black, female felon, that would check off THREE markers! Instant hire!

Gary R. Welsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete Boggs said...

Are you certain this is a program set aside or quota, vs., simply the percent or result of the Deputy Mayor's rehabilitative focus on former offenders?

Bizyourself said...