I got word yesterday that Dave Gonzalez, a current vendor (he has some kind of contract with the city) and candidate for mayor in Chicago Heights, has called a meeting for this Saturday of *all* department heads and employees who work for the city. Department heads made phone calls -- on city time, using city resources -- demanding that employees attend this "mandatory meeting." According to one source, they were told that there would be "consequences" for those who didn't show up.
This is, of course, illegal. Municipal employees are protected by both Shakman and Rutan, according to election law expert Richard Means. Means was the lawyer who had an election overturned in Gary, IN and literally wrote the book on election law in Illinois.
According to Means:
Of course it is illegal to condition future public employment on political work for a mayoral candidate regardless of whether he is an incumbent or aspirant. Depending on the precise facts and how the threat was communicated and by whom, it is likely both a federal and state crime and a civil violation of numerous federal and state civil rights laws.
Many people associate Shakman with the City of Chicago and Cook County. But it also applies to Chicago Heights. Shakman strictly prohibits politically-based hiring, firing, promotions and/or other job actions for municipal positions where political considerations are not expressly exempt. Virtually every Chicago Heights employee contacted on Wednesday or Thursday at the bequest of Dave Gonzalez falls under the protection of Shakman (and Rutan).
Department heads, because they used city resources and workday to demand employee's participation, are particularly at risk. One explanation of Shakman [PDF] says that it:
prohibits the conditioning, basing, or knowingly prejudicing or affecting any aspect of employment of any person as a Governmental Employee (other than Exempt Positions), upon or because of any political reason or factor including, without limitation, any Employee’s political affiliation, political support or activity, political financial contributions, promises of such political support, activity or financial contributions or such Employee’s political sponsorship or recommendation is prohibited.
Further, it prohibits any employee (exempt or not exempt):
from knowingly inducing, aiding, abetting, participating in, cooperating with the commission of, or threatening to condition, base or knowingly prejudice or affect the employment of any County employee or applicant based upon political factors.
It is not Gonzalez, of course, who is likely to bear the brunt of additional Shakman litigation. The city of Chicago Heights would do so -- both financially and, additionally, to it's reputation -- of the possible Shakman violations.
In Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, "The [U.S. Supreme] Court found for the petitioner, expanding the First Amendment protection against dismissal from low-level government positions based on party affiliation, which had been established in two earlier cases." In other words, municipal employees cannot be forced to participate in party activity.
I talked yesterday with people I know in the U.S. Attorney General's office about Saturday's meeting in Chicago Heights. Because of my involvement in the Obama campaign and the transition, I was aware that public corruption -- as seems to be manifesting itself with this week's incident in Chicago Heights -- is a key concern of the Obama Administration. I was referred to the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division within the department:
The Public Integrity Section (PIN) oversees the federal effort to combat corruption through the prosecution of elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government. The Section has exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of federal judges and also supervises the nationwide investigation and prosecution of election crimes. Section attorneys prosecute selected cases against federal, state, and local officials, and are available as a source of advice and expertise to other prosecutors and investigators.
I was specifically asked to relay their phone number to anyone who felt they had been forced to participate in political activity (such as the meeting called for Saturday by Dave Gonzalez). If you are a Chicago Heights employee (or the employee of any city) who felt intimidated or forced to participate against your will, please call the Public Integrity Section at (202) 514-1412. You won't have to give your full name to express your concerns. They are eager to hear from you. I will follow up on this on Saturday, and afterwards.
We need to stem the corruption here in the South Suburbs. We can no longer simply overlook corruption just because that's the way it's always been. We're better than that. We *deserve* better than that...