* A patronage hiring controversy at IDOT started cranking up while I was on break. Today’s update from the AP…
Gov. Pat Quinn says the increase in jobs free from hiring rules at the Illinois Department of Transportation were “absolutely” necessary.
He told reporters Monday that there were federal stimulus dollars that had to be spent quickly and efficiently, along with a massive capital bill. He says policy makers were needed.
Documents released last week by his office showed an increase of 57 percent from 2003 to 2011. The documents showed that in 2011 there were 369 jobs at IDOT that could be given without restriction to those with political connections. That was up from 234 in 2003.
* The document release came after a lawsuit was filed April 22nd…
A Chicago lawyer asked a federal judge yesterday to order an investigation into hiring under Gov. Pat Quinn, saying there’s an “embedded culture of patronage practices” in Illinois government and anyone who improperly got a job should be fired.
Michael Shakman, known for bringing the decades-old court case that led to bans on politically based hiring in Chicago and Cook County, filed his motion in U.S. District Court in Chicago as part of that ongoing lawsuit.
The filing accuses Quinn of improper hiring and reclassification of employees in the Illinois Department of Transportation. It cites a 2013 report by the Better Government Association, a watchdog group, that concluded hundreds of IDOT jobs may have been wrongly filled based on “clout instead of competence.”
* The BGA has been pushing this story for a while now, claiming that the hirings were illegal. Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider has avoided commenting on the issue, but finally sat down with the BGA last week. Here’s some of what she had to say…
Patrick McCraney/BGA: As you see it, what did IDOT do wrong when it comes to Rutan?
Ann Schneider/IDOT Secretary: Well, the way that I look at this is that we had gotten position descriptions that were sent over to [the Illinois Department of Central Management Services] for classification, and when they came back, they came back as Rutan-exempt [the job classification that allows a hire to be made based on politics]. We went through the Rutan-exempt hiring for those positions and, I think that as your story rightly pointed out last year, some of those people brought in under those position descriptions ended up performing duties outside of those position descriptions. Thankfully, to you, really, for bringing this to our attention, we found that perhaps people were not performing Rutan-exempt duties that they were hired to perform.
At that point, I thought it was important that we stopped hiring any of these staff assistant positions, and that we do a review of the processes related to the positions, and at the same time that we reviewed the process, that we also audited those positions. In other words, we did a desk audit, there was a team, a third-party, that we brought in to conduct interviews of the people in these positions to find out what their job duties were, also to interview their supervisors, to find out what it is their supervisors expect of those positions.
As a result of those interviews and that desk audit, we drew up these new job descriptions that more accurately reflect the work that these people were doing. Those descriptions were sent to CMS for re-classification, and we have just gotten back, really, just a couple days ago, and we were going through what we got back from CMS, but it appears based on what they sent back to us, that, it appears right now that 48 of the 60 positions, they’re performing Rutan-covered duties, so those are Rutan-covered positions, and 12 of those positions that were sent over came back as retaining their Rutan-exempt status.
* When told that Shakman believes IDOT should only have 20 or so “double-exempt” positions, which are exempt from both US Supreme Court’s Rutan ruling, and the personnel code, Schneider said this…
I think that 20, for an organization of more than 5,200 people, that’s statewide, that covers nine different districts, and beyond those nine districts we have three other offices, people obviously have to run all of those locations, and make sure that the vision and mission of the administration is being carried out appropriately. And then, when we looked at the auditors, and the attorneys, obviously they are all privy to a lot of confidential information, and as we get into labor relations, for obvious reasons we want them to be double-exempt, non-union people, the legislative and governmental affairs are obviously speaking on behalf of the administration, and helping us to move policy through the General Assembly, and our local community liaisons are the same. I think if there was a review done of everybody who is classified for every position as double-exempt, I don’t think there would be much disagreement that where we’re at is closer to the appropriate level.
* She also went into more detail about who was double-exempt…
(W)e have 13 different offices and divisions, each of those offices and divisions have directors. It’s very important in those positions to have people that are able to carry out the mission and the vision of the governor and the administration. Within that, we’ve also got deputy directors, there’s a number of deputy directors. We also have, there are 40 engineers at IDOT that are double-exempt positions… And, those 40 engineers are all a five or above, so they’re all in managerial roles, they’re all in roles to carry out what the agency does. We also have over 20 attorneys that are double-exempt. Our audit staff is also double-exempt. Our labor relations staff, our legislative and governmental affairs staff are double exempt. We also have what we call “Local Community Liaisons,” and these are folks that work for us that are out in the community and dealing with the mayors and the local elected officials and even with constituents, to address their transportation concerns, and also to help us with carrying out the mission of the organization, so they are also double-exempt. We have some support staff, we have some executive secretaries and administrative assistants, that support all of these people in these roles, that are privy to confidential conversations and information, and they are also considered double-exempt.