Worker’s Comp is another Hired Truck and Clout List Scandal Waiting to Happen
I predict current workers’ comp Director Monica Somerville will join the ranks of city managers Angelo Torres and Robert Sorich. Torres managed the infamous Hired Truck program. The city paid $60 million a year to contractors for trucks that mainly sat idle on side streets and parking lots. To secure their lucrative trucking contracts, city contractors used bribes, kickbacks, and political donations, including contributions to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s political committee that Emanuel set up when he ran for congress. Sorich maintained the “clout list” that FBI agents found on his computer when they raided his city hall office. Scorch kept the names of people that the city promoted or hired in exchange for their political work, a practice that the Shakman Decrees expressly prohibited. Not surprisingly, the names of workers comp Director Monica Somerville and three of her relatives appear on Sorich’s clout list (see Note 1).
As with Torres and Sorich, Monica Somerville’s political organization and political sponsors secured her workers’ comp job. As with Torres and Sorich, workers’ comp Director Somerville must obey orders from her political clout bosses regardless of whether her orders are moral or immoral or legal or illegal; otherwise, she will be out of her seventh public sector job.
Somerville’s job as workers’ comp director is her fourth city job. Somerville worked in the law department as an attorney and assistant corporation council from January 1991 until she resigned in September 1997. Somerville returned to the law department as a chief assistant corporation council in June 2000. Somerville’s return to city employment at double the salary is significant because it occurred after Sorich put her name on his clout list. Seventeen months later, the city fired Somerville for disciplinary reasons in November 2001. Somerville did not leave her city job quietly. She filed a sexual harassment and racial discrimination suit against her boss Melvin Brooks and the City of Chicago. The judge ruled the city fired Somerville for “poor performance.” The judge specifically noted Somerville made mistakes that led to a $50 million and $3 million verdict against the city. The judge said Somerville provided no evidence that she was sexually harassed or racially discriminated against.
Somerville Should Have Been on the City’s Do Not Hire List
The assistant commissioner for the human resources department maintains a “do not hire list” of employees whom the city will not rehire because of the actions that led to their termination. The do not hire list is divided into finite and infinite classifications. The city may rehire former employees after one year if city workers’ terminations are listed as “finite.” The city will never rehire former city employees whose terminations are classified as “infinite.”
At the very least Monica Somerville’s disciplinary termination would have put her on the do not hire finite list had there been one in 2001. Somerville falsely accusing her supervisor and city of sexual harassment and racial discrimination after she was fired probably would have earned her a do not hire infinite termination. It’s one thing to get fired for poor performance and disciplinary reasons, but making false accusations after termination against a supervisor and the city is far more serious. I pity Somerville’s boss who had to defend himself against her awful allegations.
Alderman Burke hired Somerville for political reasons, and he continues to employ her for political reasons. As with Somerville’s current workers’ comp position, her previous employment was also a Shakman exempt job. Prior to joining Alderman Ed Burke’s finance committee, Somerville worked nine years at the Illinois Department of Employment Services (IDES). She went from a $28.36 hourly hearing referee in 2003 to earning $7,917 a month for working as a public service administrator starting in 2009. Somerville has an eight month employment history gap from when she left IDES on Sept. 1, 2012 until she started working for Burke’s finance committee on May 16, 2013. Somerville’s pay dropped from $95,000 a year at IDES to the $75,000 a year that she is currently earning as a finance committee employee.
Alderman Ed Burke is solely responsible for hiring Monica Somerville. For the 31 years that Burke has served as finance committee chairman, he has handpicked all of his workers’ comp employees. Somerville did not make the city’s do not hire list because there was no such list when she was fired, but wouldn’t her termination for poor job performance, false allegations against her supervisor, and unsuccessful lawsuit against the city give Burke pause to hire her? Has Somerville accomplished anything remarkable that shows she is a far better employee today then the day the city fired her?
Burke has some explaining to do. Why did Burke hire Somerville after she was fired from the law department for poor performance? Why did Burke hire Somerville after she made false sexual harassment and racial discrimination claims in a lawsuit that she lost? Why did Burke hire Somerville who has an extensive political pedigree for a job that requires independence and impartiality?
Burke’s hiring of Somerville is a symptom of a much bigger problem, namely workers’ comp is under Burke’s finance committee’s control when it should be part of the executive branch. During Burke’s 31 year reign as finance chairman, I estimate that he has submitted $2 billion to $3 billion in workers’ compensation vouchers without a financial audit or oversight of his expenditures. Indeed aldermen have passed Burke’s workers’ comp budget for 31 years, but once the city council appropriated money to fund Burke’s committee, there has been no review to make sure Burke has properly spent the $2 to $3 billion of workers’ comp money.
Three 1913 municipal code ordinances give Burke the unchecked power to hire workers’ comp employees, sign vouchers for both duty disability pay and medical expenses without proper financial controls over his spending or oversight of his employees. Workers’ compensation employees like Somerville maintain power and control over city employees’ livelihood and their health since they must give their prior approval for medical procedures such as surgery. If you are a city employee or someone you care about is a city employee, you’ll want to know the answer to this question: How many other Monica Somervilles did Alderman Ed Burke hire to administer Chicago’s workers’ comp program?
1.To view Monica Somerville and her relatives names on the clout list, click the following document. cloutlist2006(2)