May 24, 2012 11:52 AM
Summertime Clout in the Southwest Suburbs
How did the teenaged sons of a Cook County commissioner from Orland Park end up with good-paying summer jobs with the local fire department? The agency's former human resources director says political favoritism played a part.
By Patrick Rehkamp/BGA and Dane Placko/FOX Chicago
Good-paying summer jobs for young people can be tough to find, as many teenagers looking ahead to the warmer months can likely attest.
But that search didn’t appear to be very tough for the children of Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman, a Republican from Orland Park whose kids were allegedly clouted into $9.25-an-hour summer jobs with the Orland Fire Protection District, the Better Government Association and FOX Chicago News found.
In a federal lawsuit filed last year, and in interviews, former Human Resources Director Joanne Chavez Buchanan claimed that fire protection district board president James Hickey, a political ally of Commissioner Gorman, generated a list of must-hires for the summer jobs in 2011, and that two Gorman sons were on that list.
What’s more, Buchanan claimed those two teenagers didn’t meet the eligibility requirements because they weren’t yet 18 or college-bound, and also didn’t submit applications until after Hickey gave the order to hire them.
Buchanan said the Gorman kids took jobs that others would have gladly accepted.
"That’s not the way a government entity should run, on hiring individuals who are interconnected or know someone to get in to get a job," Buchanan said. "It’s not fair to the residents."
She said she complained and was fired. Her lawsuit, which claims wrongful termination, was recently dismissed but is being re-filed this week, officials said.
Hickey said Buchanan wasn’t fired for whistle-blowing, but he wouldn’t get into specifics. He insisted that all applicants for the summer jobs last year were hired, so the Gorman boys didn’t take jobs from anyone. And he said the requirement is that summer hires be at least 16, not 18.
Commissioner Gorman wouldn’t address several questions but wrote in an email that Buchanan "has used my children as pawns to politicize her own frivolous lawsuits, which is despicable!"
This year there were so many applicants at the fire protection district that a lottery was held. The Gorman boys both made the cut.
Although the agency provides fire and ambulance service to about 75,000 southwest suburban residents, the summer jobs are menial, and include landscaping, clerical work and washing fire trucks.
The owner of a home worth $300,000 within the fire district’s boundaries would have probably paid between $600 and $700 in property taxes to the agency last year, according to the Cook County clerk’s office.
Gorman donated $300 to Hickey’s campaign last July, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
This story was written and reported by Patrick Rehkamp of the Better Government Association and Dane Placko of FOX Chicago News. To contact them, call (312) 386-9201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.