More Pope on Department of Water Management Payroll Sun-Times Story
Rahm Emanuel sidesteps Shakman Rules again to reward friends with taxpayer money. Former Ald. John Pope (10th) didn't miss a beat or a buck before landing on his feet after losing his runoff April 7 to challenger Susan Sadlowski Garza by just 20 votes. Pope is back where he started -- in the City Hall bureaucracy -- as a $116,856-a-year deputy commissioner of the Department of Water Management, which has been at the center of the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals. The hiring of Pope comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked about scouring the budget for every available dollar before raising taxes to solve the combined, $30 billion pension crisis at the city and public schools that has dropped Chicago's bond rating to junk status. The former alderman started his new job last week. The position had been vacant since March 2013. "He is assigned to the Bureau of Water Supply and will be working on the administration and staffing of the two water filtration plants and DWM's other pumping facilities," Water Management spokesman Peter Scales wrote in an emailed statement. "John has decades of administrative experience, having spent several years of his career as a budget analyst . . . and in the mayor's office overseeing the construction and management of Chicago's infrastructure. DWM will benefit from his vast experience and expertise to analyze . . . facility staffing needs, hiring plans and use of overtime." Pope could not be reached for comment. Aldermanic salaries range from $106,558 to $117,333 a year, depending on whether City Council members chose to accept their annual cost-of-living pay hikes. No matter where Pope landed in that range, the new job makes him whole. It's not the first time Emanuel has ridden to Pope's rescue. The $4 million super PAC created to re-elect the mayor and strengthen his City Council majority contributed $75,000 to Pope's losing aldermanic campaign. Chicago Forward got involved in 38 ward races. Pope was fourth on the list of beneficiaries. Only former Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) ($110,000), Ald. James Cappleman (46th) ($98,000) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) ($79,000) received more. Shortly after taking office, Emanuel embarked on a massive rebuilding of Chicago's water system bankrolled by a four-year doubling of water rates, followed by annual cost-of-living increases. Last year, operating revenues in the water fund increased by $80.9 million or 13.2 percent thanks to a 15 percent increase in water rates offset by the conversion of 20,256 accounts from non-metered to metered, according to the 2014 city audit. Operating expenses before depreciation and amortization increased by $23.5 million or 8.6 percent, thanks, in part, to an $14.2 million increase in transmission and distributions expenses. Operating revenues in the city's sewer fund increased by $42.5 million or 15.2 percent, thanks to a companion increase in sewer fees. The bottom line is that the water and sewer funds are in relatively good shape compared with the rest of city government. But that doesn't change the perception that, at a time when bureaucratic belt-tightening could force layoffs of rank-and-file city employees, a former alderman who's close to the mayor just landed a six-figure job. "The fact that we don't have a lot of money doesn't mean that all jobs are left unfilled," said Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th), Emanuel's City Council floor leader. "There was an opening. [Pope] applied. He's got budget experience. He came from the [Daley] administration years ago. He's gone back to the type of work he did before. If the guy came from the bureaucracy of the city before and dealt with that department and did budgets and applies for a job" then he's qualified. Last year, Pope came under fire for hiring as a $57,048-a-year staff assistant, a former Streets and Sanitation worker, who had landed on the city's "do not hire" list after being accused of sexually harassing a female co-worker and threatening to rape her when she complained about him. Pope fired Thomas J. Sadzak only after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the woman had won a $99,000 settlement from City Hall. During his losing aldermanic campaign, Pope enlisted snow removal help from a corrupt city contractor and thanked him publicly on Facebook. After getting elected with help from the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization at the center of the hiring scandal, Pope returned the favor by hiring the mother of HDO Southeast chieftain Al Sanchez. Sanchez, a former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner under Daley, was subsequently convicted of rigging city hiring to benefit HDO and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.