OIG Finds That the Ward Superintendent Role Does Not Meet Shakman Exempt Requirements

The Compliance section of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has concluded that the ward superintendent position within the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) does not meet the legal requirements for a Shakman Exempt designation and therefore should be subject to the standards and procedures, as well as political factor prohibitions, generally applicable under the City’s Hiring Plan. The City of Chicago is legally bound to comply with court-ordered Hiring Plans when undertaking employment actions; Chapter VIII of the General Hiring Plan excludes so-called “Shakman Exempt” positions from certain aspects of the otherwise applicable and legally mandated selection processes and standards; most notably, in their allowance for consideration of political reasons or factors when making hiring or termination decisions.

DSS employs 50 ward superintendents who perform duties including monitoring refuse collection, street cleaning, and snow removal, among others. Ward superintendents also work closely with the elected alderman of their assigned ward, helping to ensure constituent services for which DSS is responsible are being properly delivered. However, superintendents are not employees of aldermen or the City Council, but rather, they report to DSS management’s chain of command. Nevertheless, aldermen traditionally have been afforded significant, and in some instances, determinative, influence on the selection and employment of their ward superintendents, as DSS generally defers to the alderman’s preference or choice on this hiring decision.

OIG specifically found that the DSS ward superintendent position does not include assigned or inherent powers that support a determination that it qualifies as Shakman Exempt. The organizational positioning of DSS ward superintendent, in addition to the actual day-to-day functions and responsibilities of the position (as described by a cross-section of ward superintendents assigned across the City), confirm that the role does policymaking or discretion for politically sensitive matters.

OIG recommended that the Department of Human Resources (DHR) revoke the Shakman Exempt designation for the ward superintendent title, as well as:

  • immediately remove all such positions from the Exempt Titles List and conduct all future hires into the title in accordance with the process and procedures under the City’s Hiring Plan;
  • have recruiters identify positions that meet minimum qualifications as listed in the job description;
  • forward information to DSS for a competitive interview process to identify the best qualified candidates; and
  • prohibit political factors and considerations from the selection process.  

In response, DHR stated that it agrees with the recommendation that the Shakman Exempt designation be revoked and that future hires shall be conducted in accordance with processes and procedures specified for Shakman covered positions under the City’s Hiring Plan. Additionally, DHR, in consultation with DSS, proposed that the process for filling the position become its own Chapter of the Hire Plan because discretion is warranted for filling these positions, including allowing the alderperson to recommend, in writing, candidates for consideration.

“An improperly classified position can negatively affect training, productivity, and development not only within the role itself, but in public perception of political influence and bias,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “Shakman Exemption applies only to titles with the authority to make policies or involve duties with a certain threshold of political sensitivity. The ward superintendent title has neither. The Administration recognizes this and has devised a corrective process that brings Shakman-compliant processes and standards to the assessment of a candidate’s qualifications to hold the position, while permitting non-determinative input from alderpersons who must routinely work in close coordination with their assigned ward superintendents. The resulting process is a good example of the flexibility that exists under the City’s Hiring Plan to fashion processes that simultaneously align legal requirements with both operational imperatives and unique institutional dynamics in effectuating delivery of services to the public.”

The full report can be found online at OIG’s website: bit.ly/DSSWardSupt.

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.