City festivals chief responds to this blog's reporting on the push for privatization

December 7, 2010

The following is an unedited e-mail response from Megan McDonald, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, to yesterday's post, "Are a political power struggle and a sweetheart deal fueling the city's push to privatize the summer music festivals?"

Jim,

I have always said that the great thing about this country is that everyone is entitled to, and can voice, their opinion freely...even if it is unfounded, inaccurate or just a blatant misrepresentation of the truth. I guess that is what makes the job of a journalist so appealing to some. You can write something and people will read and believe it and it doesn't even have to be true, nor do you have to back up the story with actual research or input from the subject matter. Sounds lovely, were it not for the fact that it can be incredibly hurtful along the way. But you seem to be okay with that part.

I debated even writing this because, at the end of the day, someone who writes such a ridiculously misguided and inaccurate story about a person they not only have never met - but never even spoken to in their lives - really doesn't register much on my list of things I care about.

However, I do need you to know a couple things in the event you decide to continue your witch hunt on my personal and professional life - of which you have done ZERO research on so that you don't embarrass yourself again.

First and foremost - there are literally thousands of people who have gone to St. Ignatius and Fairfield UNIVERSITY (not College, just so you know) who may have passed a Daley, Vanecko or Thompson in the hallway who don't go on to work for the City and then there are some that do. However, where I went to high school or college and who I may or may not have interacted with there were not requirements of any job I have ever had.

Secondly, who I choose to surround myself in my personal life is absolutely none of your business, or anyone else's for that matter. It has no effect on how I perform my job. The notion that I have gotten any job, or stayed in any job because of who I know instead of what I know, is so incredibly insulting. How can you insult someone that you have never met or spoken to...just based on what someone else has told you? How incredibly short sided, narrow minded and just plain lazy.

You might assume that the Special Events job is some "cush" job and I just float around and do nothing. Let me tell you...I don't know many people that would be willing to give up every Saturday and Sunday between March and April to basically live in Grant Park, work 12-16 hour days amongst 1 million of your closest friends, be subject to constant insults by people who think they know more than anyone else, or could do my job much better....and be constantly challenged by a very demanding boss with very high expectations. And I say that last part with the utmost respect for the Mayor. I have sacrificed a lot for this job - family time, personal time, vacations, special occasions, etc....to try and do what I can to deliver the best festivals this City has to offer. Yet you have summarily dismissed that in a casual blog because you were looking for something to fill some space.

As for the Maureen Volini reference. I find it amusing that you reference yet another journalist who wrote a story that was also blatantly misrepresentative of the truth to make your point. The only difference is that Fran at least had the decency to call me and speak to me first so that she got "both sides of the story". The only problem is that Fran only reported what made her story "juicy" and left out one important fact.

Since you did no research on Maureen either before you wrote your story, let me qualify this a little more for you. Maureen has served a much larger role at Special Events than you were willing to give her credit for. She was our Personnel Services Coordinator, not a "Secretary". She handled basically all human resources duties in our office and did so for close to 20 years. When the merger discussion first started, the priority for everyone involved was that nobody would lose their jobs. It was a priority for me, as I believe it was for Lois. When we realized that both Departments had a Personnel position, we spoke to the Mayors Office who alerted us to the fact that the Department of Procurement Services was without an HR coordinator and was in desperate need of one. So - in sticking true to our desire to keep people employed during a very difficult economy - it was decided that Maureen would fill that much needed vacancy. It is no more involved than that. Seems a lot less "sinister" when you have the actual truth, doesn't it?

Any and all decisions on what happens at Cultural Affairs are made by Lois. I had absolutely nothing to do with her layoffs or reductions in force. Those were her decisions alone. The merger of the Department was a cost saving measure that I have publicly said I support in an effort to be more fiscally responsible. I will not, and never have, spoken for Lois or her feelings on the matter. I will only say that the notion that this is a "political power struggle" could not be farther from the truth. Do you think going from Executive Director of Special Events down to one of 4 Deputies of this new Department was some grand plan of mine? Sure Jim, let me demote myself a few times....give myself some more "power". Ridiculous. I accepted the changes and everything associated with them because I am, and have always been, a team player. I will do whatever I can to make this new system work, as I have said from the very first time this idea was introduced.

Lastly, and most importantly, the RFP. I have been the "public face" of this RFP because that what my job dictates. I am the Executive Director of Special Events and the events listed in the RFP are events that are directed by the Office that I manage. Doesn't seem that complicated. The reason Lois has not been the "public face" is two fold: she doesn't direct the events in the RFP and has chosen not to be part of the process. But to be clear, Lois Weisberg and others at Cultural Affairs were aware of the proposal for an RFP, were asked to participate in the process and chose not to. I respect their decision, but I do not subscribe to the notion that they were "uninvolved" or "unaware". This is simply not true.

Whether I support the idea of a RFP is beside the point here. What I did do was participate in the process because that is my job, I have the most accurate information to offer and because I am a team player. I have no idea what the results will be, and I have said very publicly (several times) that there are many risks at stake here, not the least of which is timing. But if this RFP puts the City of Chicago in a better place financially, then it was worth the risk and the effort.

In the future, Jim - perhaps us having an actual conversation before you slander me, insult my 12 years working for the City, insult the 54 employees working in the Mayor's Office of Special Events and insult those who are trying to do what is best for the City - would make more sense. Because here is where I stand on this - if we talk...and you still feel the same way....then feel free to write your story. But I find it totally irresponsible for your to write the story that you did without ever having spoken with me.

I hope I at least clarified where I stand. I am not going to spend time outlining my resume or trying to convince you that my qualifications made perfect sense for every job that I have ever had. I let my hard work speak for itself, and those that actually know me know the truth. That's all that matters to me at this point.

Have a nice day.

I emailed the following to McDonald in response.

Megan -- I spoke to Cindy Gatziolis in the MOSE press office, requested an interview with you, outlined the questions I was looking at in case you did not want to interrupt your maternity leave, and was told that I should turn instead to the department of Procurement Services for all information on the RFP and the festival privatization issue. It is not true that I did not attempt to speak with you.

As for your job qualifications, I linked to your official city bio so that readers could decide for themselves whether your political connections had anything to do with your winning that post or if your work experience was entirely to credit. I have talked to a dozen people in city government who believe that nepotism was at play, but certainly I am willing to post your response to my story in its entirety -- you did not indicate that this was off the record, on background, or not for publication. It never was my intention to deny you your say, and you will see that I quoted you at length in the piece from the interview with WGN.

I stand by everything else in the piece, with the exception of Fairfield University. Thanks for the correction there.

All the best --

Jim DeRogatis