The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit to determine whether the ward superintendent position within the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) is appropriately classified as Shakman Exempt. More specifically, our objective was to determine whether the ward superintendent position meets the legal standard to qualify for Shakman Exempt status it currently possesses. The City of Chicago is legally bound to comply with court-ordered Hiring Plans when undertaking employment actions, including among others, hiring, promotions, and terminations. Chapter VIII of the City’s 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, for present purposes in their allowance for consideration of political reasons or factors when making hiring or termination decisions. Outside of these specified Exempt positions, taking political affiliation into account in government hiring decisions generally is not permissible because it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, which guarantee citizens the right to political association and expression. Courts, however, have carved out an exception for government positions where political affiliation is a relevant qualification to job performance.
OIG concluded that the ward superintendent title 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.
OIG found that the ward superintendent job description, the primary focus for analysis based on binding legal precedent, does not include inherent powers and responsibilities that support a determination that the position is Shakman Exempt. In addition, the ward superintendent’s placement within the organizational structure of DSS undermines any assertion that the position involves policymaking or discretion for politically sensitive matters, as is required for Shakman Exempt status. We also found 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 the reliability and accuracy of the job description and do not involve political or policymaking duties or authority. Accordingly, the position lacks characteristics necessary to justify its inclusion on the City’s list of Shakman Exempt positions for which political considerations may be considered and factored in the selection process.
OIG recommends that DHR revoke the Shakman Exempt designation the ward superintendent title, 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 specified for Shakman covered positions under the City’s Hiring Plan, including but not limited to, public posting of vacancies; review by DHR recruiters to identify those that meet minimum qualifications as listed in the job description; forwarding to DSS for a competitive interview process to identify the best qualified candidates; and prohibiting political factors and considerations from the selection process.
In response to our audit findings and recommendations, DHR stated that it agrees with the recommendation that the Shakman Exempt designation for ward superintendent be revoked. Additionally, DHR agrees that future hires shall be conducted in accordance with processes and procedures specified for Shakman covered positions under the City’s Hiring Plan.