Life after Lois | Lois Weisberg
Assessing the legacy of the city’s former culture queen, Lois Weisberg.
She hired employees for a nonprofit organization called the Chicago Tourism Fund and had them essentially function as regular city employees. They worked in city facilities as subordinates to, and sometimes even supervisors of, city workers.
Weisberg helped create the Tourism Fund in 1998 to generate private financial support for a travel conference the city hosted. Over the years, the Tourism Fund made it possible for her to raise sponsorship money for cultural activities while hiring workers for assignment on various city cultural projects.
But when a court-appointed federal monitor in 2009 looked into hiring at DCA under Weisberg, it found that 174 people working for the Tourism Fund did so in violation of the Shakman decree.
The monitor, Noelle Brennan, quickly heralds Weisberg’s tenure in an interview. “Lois Weisberg is an amazing woman. No one wants to decimate what [the department does],” Brennan says.
Nevertheless, Brennan cannot excuse the way Weisberg operated. A Shakman violation is still a Shakman violation, even if Weisberg’s goals were more high-minded than those of the 49 Daley administration top aides and others who have been convicted of outright criminal fraud over the past seven years, starting with the Hired Truck scandal.
Brennan points to actions undertaken by DCA in the weeks before Weisberg left as evidence the city may have learned little from the report, which was submitted to the court in 2009. When the city last fall merged DCA with the patronage-laden MOSE staff, it canned mostly DCA workers while retaining everyone in MOSE. And the cuts at DCA came in as ham-handed an anti-Shakman way as one might imagine.
DCA workers last December were called to a meeting by management and told that Shakman considerations meant they were being laid off. The employees were told which door to exit through: One door meant they were out of work; the other meant they would be rehired at the Tourism Fund.