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Then and now

Thursday, Apr 17, 2014

Posted by Barton Lorimor (@bartonlorimor)

* If the Metra cards have been anything, they have been an interesting compare/contrast.

It’s hard for me to imagine a time where patronage was so common that hard-copy records were actually kept…

The existence of the records was first disclosed in the report issued last month by the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force, appointed last summer by Gov. Pat Quinn to recommend improvements for Metra and the other transit agencies. The task force was created after ousted CEO Alex Clifford alleged that House Speaker Michael Madigan and other power brokers pressured him on issues ranging from hiring to contracts.

The cards date roughly from 1983 to 1991, and relate to people who were referred for jobs, promotions or raises by various public officials or others with political influence, the task force said. Some of those people got the jobs they were seeking and others did not, the task force said.

The index cards provide a quirky but incomplete history of hiring at Metra. Each card offers a partial snapshot of job candidates, what positions they were seeking or received and who was listed as their patron.

The jobs range from budget analyst to car cleaner, and the patrons were some of the most colorful characters in Chicago history. They include a host of now-convicted power brokers, from ex-Gov. George Ryan to former Chicago Ald. Ed Vrdolyak and former Metra board member Donald Udstuen. Among the other marquee political names were Madigan, former Gov. Jim Edgar, former Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip, ex-Mayor Jane Byrne and even the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.

* Now if there is a suspicious hiring move or a salary bumps, it’s a headline…

Former Democratic state Rep. Karen Yarbrough has been Cook County’s recorder of deeds for little over a year.

But in that time, records show, Yarbrough has put one family member on the payroll and hired several people with political ties to her, as well as to her husband, former Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough.

Borrowing a legal argument crafted by Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, Yarbrough claims in court papers that the county ethics ordinance — which bars the hiring of family members — doesn’t apply to her as an independently elected office holder.

What’s more, when Cook County Inspector General Pat Blanchard looked into the hires, the employees and ranking staffers lied to investigators and refused to cooperate, Blanchard said in a blistering report released Wednesday.

I think “Don’t lie when they come talk to you” was a tip that came up more than once in yesterday’s Question of the Day.


* Who’s who of pols as job references on Metra clout cards

* Clout worked for some job-seekers, not all, at Metra

* Metra’s $2.4 million in non-union raises — here’s the list

* Claypool hires ex-county staffers with past ethics problems: Claypool named James D’Amico to help manage the CTA’s rail maintenance. Though D’Amico has no railroad experience, he is a longtime government worker who late last year left his county management post after the inspector general recommended he be fired for allegedly coercing government workers into donating to Todd Stroger’s campaign. D’Amico joined Gerald Nichols, a top executive under John Stroger, who is Claypool’s general manager of legislative affairs and government and community relations at the CTA. In 2006, Nichols was placed on paid suspension from his county job pending an internal investigation into hiring irregularities following an FBI search of county offices that did not result in any charges. Nichols remained suspended until he left the county later that year.

* D’Amico leaves one public job — and heads into another

* Herald-Review: Senate should pass public access bill

* Two Cook County employees get prison for bribery scheme

- Posted by Barton Lorimor        

  1. - TheHouseOfLyons - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 8:25 am:

    UofI comes to mind…although that was admissions, not jobs…

  2. - FirstStreet - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 9:19 am:

    Do you think patronage is less common today? I’d say it’s just unwritten. Think of testimony in recent hiring probes, they’ve said they don’t get direct requests, but they got the idea. Abstract influence can be even more powerful than written requests.

  3. - AFSCME Steward - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 9:25 am:


    “Do you think patronage is less common today? I’d say it’s just unwritten. Think of testimony in recent hiring probes, they’ve said they don’t get direct requests, but they got the idea. Abstract influence can be even more powerful than written requests.”

    The fact that a scandal about political hiring at METRA broke last year says it’s still ongoing. They’ve just got smarter & stopped leaving a trail.

  4. - OneMan - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 9:35 am:

    Ethics rules are for others….

    Also, so the guy has had some issues, he is connected we know that makes him more qualified…

  5. - Formerpol - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 9:36 am:

    So now it is a negative if a job applicant has impressed an elected official enough to get a recommendation? Is this the world we want to inhabit? I see the fine hand of a former US Attorney at work here who never understood political horse-trading. The Seventh Circuit is about to reverse many of his Blago counts and will repudiate the “horse-trading is a felony” theory once and for all time!

  6. - Walker - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 9:51 am:

    My sense is that purely patronage hiring is in fact much less common than it was 25 years ago. Then it was accepted and bragged about by both parties, and even joked about by the general public; now it is frowned upon by almost everyone. It happens, but not as a normal business practice as it once was.

    And yes, anything Collins touches is likely biased, IMHO.

    He blew our chances for real reform in the legislature, by treating even his best allies in the legislature as suspects. He couldn’t break out of his single-minded prosecutor’s role enough to craft effective solutions.

  7. - April Fool - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 10:06 am:

    I agree with Walker - Hiring based on the basis of pure patronage has gone down significantly in the last 25 years. I also feel that it has had an ironic effect.

    One of the arguments against patronage is that there are some hires that are unqualified for their respective jobs. Nowadays however, most of the available patronage jobs are management level “exempt” positions.

    So now you can’t hire a guy for a low level position because it breaks hiring rules, but you can hire that same guy to a higher level management position. A little bit of common sense needs to be injected into the situation.

  8. - wordslinger - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 10:15 am:

    Try following this one:

    Letters of recommendation — in writing, obviously, placed in files for all to see — are somehow evidence of corruption.

    Yet Chief Justice Roberts, first in “Citizens United,” now in “McCuthcheon,” tells us that unlimited bankrolling of politicians’ campaign funds is protected speech that doesn’t even “approach the appearance of corruption.”

    So writing a letter is naughty, but dropping millions on some politician is just engaging in the public square, lacking a quid pro quo.

    That’s through the looking glass.

  9. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 10:34 am:

    Letters of recommendation are not evidence of corruption.

    Corruption exists in the thousands of pages of regulations written in bureaucracies and in legislative chambers that are written so that favored corporations and individuals who need to sell their products and services, are handed multi million dollar government contracts while their market competition is shut out and tax payers end up with shoddy merchandise at higher prices.

    Having a public official help someone get a job is not the big problem we have in government.

  10. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 10:40 am:

    When US Attorney candidates refuse to use recommendation letters for thier appointments, or when appointments to the Military Academies by members of Congress don’t ask for recommendation letters, and ….

    See? The letters themselves, or recommending anyone for a positions is not a crime.

    What is disappointing are the people blathering on about letters, and then it comes out they either wrote a recommendation letter for someone for something, or a letter was written on their behalf at some point in their career, and see nothing wrong in their own instance, …

    but … an elected official does something …

    Bad form.

  11. - Pat C - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 10:45 am:

    Letters of recommendation are not evidence of corruption.

    True story. As a manager I was asked to interview a person for a job. I did so. They were the least qualified candidate I had ever spoken with. I wondered how they got so far.

    Then, the VP asked me about the candidate. He said “she is the wife of X” X was the guy he had just hired, and was well know as his good protege from before.

    What do you think I did?

    Same thing those people did when the letters came from pols who controlled their funding.

  12. - Walker - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 10:46 am:

    Wordslinger: Good point.

    To top it off, I just heard Roberts, during the Hobby Lobby case oral arguments, seem to argue that any corporation, regardless of size, affiliation, or structure, is a “person” with individual “religious” rights. Alito chimed in with: “as long as they have a majority vote of their board.”

    I would bet my last dollar that the writers and supporters of our original Bill of Rights would roll over in their graves at such nonsense. And they both claim to be anti-interventionists judges!

  13. - A guy... - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    I’ve advised many (especially younger people) to get letters of recommendation from a local elected official if they helped in any way on a campaign or interned. In addition, they should have one from a college instructor and at least two from former employers or business people. If inclined, another from a clergy person. The political letter should only round out the whole file. If it’s only political letters, my guess is most employers wouldn’t put much weight on it….unless they were corrupt. The whole notion that corruption is limited to the elected class is absurd. They are in the vast minority of the corrupt club. Most of the public servants I’ve known have had to have eyes in the back of their heads to consciously sidestep corrupt practices. Usually, they’re the prey, not the predator.

  14. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 11:36 am:

    === Is this the world we want to inhabit? I see the fine hand of a former US Attorney at work here who never understood political horse-trading. ===

    Rod, is that you? They give you Internet access in Colorado? /s

  15. - DuPage - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 11:43 am:

    Interesting list of Metra “raises”. Quite a few got no increases, others got very large increases.

  16. - DuPage - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    Politicians recommending people for government jobs has gone on since the U.S. became a nation.
    I read a book about Albert Gallatin a while back. One of the things it noted was he arranged federal employment for one of his friends when he stopped in the town his friend lived in.
    The book did not present it as anything wrong or unethical. It was more of just a diary of things he did on that trip. The point is that it was obviously an accepted practice to use influence to recommend people for government jobs.
    In the private sector, almost anything goes. As Pat C 10:45 pointed out, candidate selection is sometimes influenced by higher-ups in the company. It sometimes happens that to get someone they want, they agree to also hire the spouse. Often if relocation is involved, the spouse has to quit their job to relocate, so it ends up being a package deal.

  17. - In 630 - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 12:39 pm:

    Maybe I was misreading but it seemed like on a lot of the cards there were notes indicating that they’d interviewed the person seemingly just to figure out if there was any kind of position they fit into. Like they had someone referred to them with no particular job or skill in mind. Thought that was odd.

  18. - PJ - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 1:43 pm:

    Not sure what to think about Hinz simply listing the name, title, salary and raise of every single Metra employee. In the past, newspapers typically only outed the names and salaries of senior managers or those making over the magical (and, apparently, sinful) threshold of $100,000. Hinz listed the info for everyone there. I realize it’s all publicly available information but it seems like an effort to embarrass everyone there regardless of whether they’ve done anything wrong. Even the BGA makes you input a few search queries for their database. I haven’t decided how I feel about what Hinz did, but my first thought is it seems over the top because I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish.

  19. - A guy... - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 2:11 pm:

    PJ, it was wrong and Hinz is a putz for doing it. He knows better, but did it anyway. So he’s more than a putz.

  20. - RNUG - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 5:28 pm:

    - In 630 - Thursday, Apr 17, 14 @ 12:39 pm:

    At one time, it was fairly commonly to be told to find a job for “X’. In a large agency, you could usually find something they were qualified for. In my experiences, “X” was usually a wife or girlfriend of an elected official or political appointee. Some were really good; some were average and some were bad.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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