Home World Former city staffer removed from do-not-hire list by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration

Former city staffer removed from do-not-hire list by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration

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One of three city staffers placed on the do-not-hire list by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office recently got his designation removed and he’s now on an alderman’s payroll, while two others fired in the early days of the Johnson administration are still barred from holding city jobs.

Josué Ortiz, who was the director of digital strategy in the mayor’s press office, was notified last month that his petition to get off the city’s “Ineligible for Rehire” list was approved. Ortiz was fired and hit with the no-hire status after he and others on his team complained about treatment by high-ranking Johnson officials.

But the two others slapped with the city government employment ban — Dora Meza and Azhley Rodriguez — confirmed to the Tribune that their appeals remained pending as of this week.

Their ongoing battle to get off the list, which has traditionally been reserved for workers accused of substantive wrongdoing, became a public flashpoint in the early months of conflict between Johnson advisers and staffers who stayed on from the Lightfoot era or earlier. A Law Department spokesperson added in a statement Thursday afternoon, “The city does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

Ortiz now works as a press aide to 36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas.

Johnson’s spokesman Ronnie Reese declined to comment, but the mayor’s press team has in the past defended the firings by noting it isn’t unusual for City Hall staffers hired by the prior administration to lose their jobs after a new mayor moves into the fifth floor.

However, Meza said in a statement to the Tribune that she was still “very much frustrated” at what she said was a lack of accountability on how the Johnson administration behaved toward Lightfoot holdovers.

“I’m happy Josué was removed,” Meza wrote. “I’m confused why Azhley and I are still on it.”

Rodriguez and Ortiz declined to comment further. An April 17 letter obtained by the Tribune shows Human Resources Commissioner Sandra Blakemore informing Ortiz his removal from the list was effective immediately, without elaborating on the details of his case.

The flap that started the saga began early on in the new administration when top City Hall adviser Jason Lee walked into a press aide’s office two days after Johnson’s inauguration and began yelling, according to a complaint filed by Meza with the state’s Human Rights Department and the city inspector general.

Meza and Rodriguez said they were upset by how Lee reprimanded them for not posting a photo recap of Johnson’s appearance at the NBA Draft Combine to the mayor’s social media pages, which Meza said was because they were livestreaming the funeral for slain police Officer Aréanah Preston. During the interaction, Lee “constantly hovered over” Meza as she sat at her desk, “raised his voice, used profane language, rolled his eyes, and kept holding his head in his hands,” according to the complaint.

Lee later told the Tribune, “I recall the details differently,” and denied being involved in their August termination.

Meza filed a separate complaint with the state attorney general’s office over a July 2023 conversation where Reese criticized how she and Rodriguez were performing their duties.

“Ronnie did not provide any measurable feedback for me and Azhley to improve upon,” Meza wrote. “Also during this conversation, Ronnie told Josué that Azhley and I laugh too much. When Josué asked to clarify, Ronnie said that we needed to work harder. In contrast, Ronnie would joke with male colleagues.”

All three staffers were fired Aug. 9. Later that month, they were sent letters by the city telling them they were being placed on the city’s do-not-hire list.

Reese, in an internal memo obtained via a public records request, accused the staffers of being insubordinate and complained that “senior press office and senior mayoral staffers were referred to in derogatory terms by former staff on official City of Chicago communication channels.”

Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Royal Pratt contributed.

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