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In the eye of the beholder

Monday, May 12, 2014

* OK, I’m gonna give you a hint about how to read news stories. When you don’t see a hard number right away, it’s a tip off that the problem being claimed isn’t as large as the lede might suggest. For instance

Dozens of state jobs involved in a dispute over whether they should be free of politics were filled by Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration with candidates who were politically connected or gave campaign contributions to the governor’s party, an Associated Press review of state documents shows.

* Four paragraphs in, we see that “dozens” is about two dozen

In an analysis of about 45 Quinn administration hires described in the government emails, the AP found more than half had connections. For instance, four held jobs in Quinn’s office or worked for another Democrat before moving to IDOT; nine are relatives of officeholders, party officials, union representatives or others who are politically connected; seven are politically active, either as officeholders or party officials; three have donated to campaign committees; and two have served on campaign payrolls, including for legislators.

I’m not trying to minimize this revelation or the reporting at all, but if the administration thought those jobs were exempt, then of course they’d put political hires in there. The only thing that truly surprises me is that it wasn’t 45 out of 45. /snark

Again, it’s clear that those jobs shouldn’t have been classified the way they were. Whether anybody knowingly broke the law is now what’s in question.

* And along those same lines, do we really want to go down this road?

The Illinois transportation secretary says it would be too difficult to reopen the hiring process for jobs contested in a federal lawsuit. […]

Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider told a Senate appropriations committee Thursday that people in those jobs are union members and repeating the hiring process would lead to costly lawsuits.

Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine says taking no action could lead to future illegal patronage hiring.

I can see Murphy’s point, but it’ll cost a whole lot of money to fire these folks, who aren’t really guilty of anything. It was IDOT’s fault they got those jobs, not theirs. But perhaps you disagree and I’m all ears.

* Meanwhile

An Illinois tollway director appointed by Pat Quinn also heads a union that is a major financial player in the governor’s re-election campaign, most recently giving $250,000 to the cause in January.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, whose president is tollway Director James Sweeney, has donated more than $450,000 to Quinn’s campaign fund since the 2010 election, state records show. Sweeney also is chairman of the Chicagoland Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC that contributed $150,000 to Taxpayers for Quinn in 2010 and 2011.

The contributions don’t breach any ethics laws but they’re troublesome, some government experts say, particularly given past cronyism at the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

“It’s worrisome to see so much money coming from one source, especially since the head of (Local 150) is also a member of the tollway board, where so many road construction dollars have been spent,” said Susan Garrett, chair of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

I can also clearly see Garrett’s point, but you can’t deny that Sweeney knows a thing or two about building roads.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Walter Mitty - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:17 pm:

    He knows too how good for his members the appointment and contributions are… Certainly there are others in this state that are as qualified… But they didn’t give as much money… Gross.

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:18 pm:

    –“It’s worrisome to see so much money coming from one source, especially since the head of (Local 150) is also a member of the tollway board, where so many road construction dollars have been spent,” said Susan Garrett, chair of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform–

    Guy’s just exercising his 1st Amendment rights, lol.

  3. - JSlim - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:22 pm:

    If Sweeney was the head of a paving company that did business w/ the Tollway, he and his wife and his company would be prohibited from contributing to Quinn. How’s that fair?

  4. - phocion - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:27 pm:

    ==you can’t deny that Sweeney knows a thing or two about building roads.==

    Not as much as an actual, I don’t know, contractor who actually, you know, builds the road. There’s a bit more to it than being a member of Local 150.

    Operators are limited in what they do in any road building contract. They don’t design. They’re not laborers. They’re not carpenters. Or steel workers. Or cement masons. Or teamsters. They don’t have to worry about bonding or sureties or insurance. They don’t risk anything when putting in a bid for work. They don’t have to meet a payroll. They show up for work after a contractor puts all the pieces in place.

    No problem with a representative of organized labor being on the Tollway Board. And Sweeney wants the Tollway to succeed. But let’s not overplay his knowledge, here.

    Whether his involvement with the super-PAC creates a perception that can be used against the Governor is a good question. Not sure if most folks will make the connection.

  5. - steve schnorf - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:29 pm:

    Rutan doesn’t prohibit hiring politically connected people in Rutan covered positions, or relatives of politically connected people, or campaign contributors. That part of the analysis is meaningless.

  6. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:33 pm:

    In the current environment, even 1 or 2 would have spelled headaches for Quinn. Now, we can expect “about two dozen” ads on this from Rauner over the next 5 months.

    Quinn’s reputation as a “good government gadfly” continues bleeding without any signs of abating.

  7. - justsayin' - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:33 pm:

    Bruce Rauner is funding tax-exempt organizations and non-profits and in return they have endorsed him or have been helping him politically. These folks argue it is free speech too regardless of how it circumvents campaign finance laws.

  8. - Chi - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:34 pm:

    If Sweeney was the head of a paving company that did business w/ the Tollway, he and his wife and his company would be prohibited from contributing to Quinn. How’s that fair?

    Because as a union official he is not profiting from the road building. His members may be getting jobs, but he’s not personally profiting. A paving company owner would be directly profiting from the business.

  9. - phocion - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:39 pm:

    A paving company owner gets work through the sealed bid process. There is no assurance that they will get work no matter how much or how little they contribute to a candidate. Public sector unions, however, directly bargain for wages and benefits with the Governor. BTW - Local 150 is not a public sector union.

  10. - Chi - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:49 pm:

    Public sector unions have government contracts. So do many road-builders. Those contracts can be amended, extended, and changed mid-term.

    Further, Workers’ Comp laws, safety standards, corporate taxes, unemployment, etc. These are all laws that can directly effect a contractor’s bottom line, whether they have a contract for State work or not.

    Lastly, Local 150 is a mixed public and private sector local.

  11. - OldSmoky2 - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 2:50 pm:

    “If Sweeney was the head of a paving company that did business w/ the Tollway, he and his wife and his company would be prohibited from contributing to Quinn. How’s that fair?”

    Check the records: From 2004 to 2012 the Illinois Road Builders Association contributed $450,249 to Illinois candidates.

  12. - Ahoy! - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:06 pm:

    IDOT should not fire the people that were given the jobs, especially since it is so hard to fire people from these jobs. The one main problem is that even if they are purely incompetent, it is still very hard to fire them. To me the issue here isn’t weather IDOT should keep or fire the employees (they should keep) the bigger issue is how do we get ride of bad employees at the state, fixing that problem would be the most advantageous and really make this issue mute. If they are good they stay, if they are unable to perform the duties they need to find work elsewhere, problem would be solved.

  13. - Anon. - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:13 pm:

    ==It was IDOT’s fault they got those jobs, not theirs.==

    I don’t know anything about this except what I read in the papers and here, which means I know nothing about any specific case, but if they got their jobs through connections rather than through the Rutan-prescribed process, how is that not somehow their fault? And even if it the fault of their patron, letting them keep the jobs unfairly rewards the patron.

    Ahoy — why should it be hard to fire someone who was not hired using proper procedures? You could argue they can stay while they “reapply” for the same job, but if someone else is better qualified, there shouldn’t be a problem with giving the job to that other person. Doesn’t mean the law works out that way, but it should.

  14. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:13 pm:

    The best unasked question about the IDOT is did they do a days work for a days pay?
    On the Tollway should the whack jobs want uninformed involved in decision making?

  15. - A guy... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:16 pm:

    Shoot, if I comment now, someone’s gonna be able to come along and use the term “dozens”. lol

  16. - OneMan - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:17 pm:

    Ok, so besides political costs, what are the disincentives then to making positions Rutan Exempt, putting someone in that position then going oops.

    Do you have the same protections in a Rutan vs non-Rutan job?

  17. - Walker - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:19 pm:

    Stick to your guns, Sweeney.

  18. - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:22 pm:

    ==Anon. - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:13 pm:==

    They were hired under the proper procedures for the way their jobs were classified. They didn’t do anything wrong.

  19. - Just Me - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:30 pm:

    Garrett and people like her always yell that transportation board members should be experts in transportation. This is what happens when you make that requirement: anyone who is an expert also has a conflict of interest.

    The experts should be the professional staff members. Board members are politicians.

  20. - A guy... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:35 pm:

    They’re fruit from the poison tree at this point. Would seem unfair to eliminate them. Evaluate them, make sure they’re qualified, get them whatever extra training they may need at this point. Cut down the poison tree. If it happens again, the fruit should be discarded along with the tree.

  21. - Hey There - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:52 pm:

    ==It was IDOT’s fault they got those jobs, not theirs.==

    exactly right. Presumably IDOT, CMS or someone with authority to do so in state government classified these positions at the start as Rutan-exempt. As such it was perfectly legal for the people who got the jobs to have gotten them because of political connections and the positions need not go through the Rutan hiring process. Consequently, unless the applicants somehow strong-armed the State into classifying the jobs as Rutan exempt when they should have been otherwise classified I cannot see why those people should lose their jobs. If it turns out that the positions were purposely or negligently mis-classified as exempt, then the fault should be with the CMS or IDOT lawyers whoever it was that made the decisions to classify them as exempt in the first place; not the employees who applied for and got the jobs.

  22. - Anon. - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:53 pm:

    ==They were hired under the proper procedures for the way their jobs were classified.==

    But their jobs were improperly classified so that someone with connections could get an advantage in hiring. Why would the presumption not be that they or their patrons did something wrong?

  23. - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    ==Why would the presumption not be that they or their patrons did something wrong?==

    Would you like to tell me what they did wrong? They didn’t classify the positions. They were hired for them under allowable rules.

  24. - Living in Machiaville - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    A guy, your analogy reminds me of a “Chauncy” Gardner(ism) …from Being There.

  25. - phocion - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:07 pm:

    Living in Machiaville -
    Now THAT was funny!

  26. - OneMan - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:21 pm:

    Ok, fine they did nothing wrong (and I agree with that) but then if they were hired under Rutan exempt rules, their employment should be covered by those rules, regardless of if that was a correct call or not, right?

    I don’t get the argument of ‘Hey I got a job that was considered a political appointment but that was wrong so now I should be protected’

  27. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:38 pm:

    The sample size needs to be higher before drawing any conclusions, but the first example of the former Sangamon County Dem Chair’s daughter having a spot doing “pre-employment screening” for highway maintainers and snowplow drivers sounds hinky from the git-go.

  28. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:52 pm:

    @One Man, the issue as I understand it is that they were hired as exempt positions but later moved into protected union positions. If they were all still “at-will” positions and half of them weren’t “needed” they could be gone tomorrow with nothing but a handshake and an office “escort”…but once3 moved into a covered position, the union can and will fight tooth and nail unless gross ineptitude can be proved. Annd even then it will be a long, slow process of removal.

  29. - steve schnorf - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:58 pm:

    I am of the general opinion that it is virtually impossible to eliminate the “appearance of impropriety”in most state actions, because “appearance ” is in the eye of the beholder, not the doer, and not all reasonable beholders will come to the same conclusion about any given action. Therefore I think it is a very dangerous standard.

  30. - steve schnorf - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:00 pm:

    AA, one could conversely argue that because of her father she could feel more secure in her position and better able to stand up to requests that she participate in evading Rutan.

  31. - Cassandra - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:01 pm:

    More sunlight is definitely needed on the process by which jobs are classified Rutan or Rutan-exempt. Had these jobs been classified and filled using proper procedures, some might have been filled by the politically connected folks anyway.
    But others would have had a chance.

    And lots of others might have been interested. Many state jobs are the kind of mid-level jobs, requiring moderate levels of education and skill, which have continued to disappear in the real world even after the recession technically ended, because of technology, improved productivity, globalization and other trends. Jobs like “doing pre-employment screening for highway maintainers” (above).

    And of course this type of analysis reinforces the perception that, Rutan or not, Illinois state government is a vast Democratic patronage farm.
    So why bother with Rutan at all. What’s the point?

  32. - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:02 pm:


    I don’t understand the argument of those who think it’s ok to get rid of these people. There are mistakes made in hiring sometimes. They are rare but I’ve seen them. We don’t get rid of those people because we made a mistake. That’s not right or fair to the person that was hired.

  33. - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:03 pm:


    The Civil Service Commission has to approve a job as being exempt.

  34. - Cassandra - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:21 pm:


    So, we need sunlight on the Commission. And aren’t the members appointed by politicians, after all?

    Maybe the media could ask the Commission about the decision-making around some of the more egregious examples.

  35. - Old Timer - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:36 pm:

    This is just the tip. A closer look should be taken of all the positions that are labeled temporary assignment that last for years

  36. - A guy... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:36 pm:

    ==== Living in Machiaville - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    A guy, your analogy reminds me of a “Chauncy” Gardner(ism) …from Being There.

    - phocion - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:07 pm:

    Living in Machiaville -
    Now THAT was funny!====

    They can’t wait for you two at Band Camp. The stories you’ll share…gack.

  37. - kathryn - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:40 pm:

    the people being hired knew they were political I think it is insulting for them to pretend they didn’t know.

  38. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 7:00 pm:

    Schnorf, one could and one could be right. Maybe I shoulda stopped after the first few words.

  39. - RNUG - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:06 pm:

    Any time you have a political organization, you are going to have a percentage of patronage hiring … fact of life.

    The real question (hard to quantity) is what percentage is actual patronage hiring? Does every new employee have to have clout to get hired?

    I remember a certain administration when there was a hard job / hiring freeze and you had to get approval from the Gov’s office for any exception. THAT was nothing more than a smokescreen to make sure the right people got hired. Remember cashing basicly every favor I had or could call in to get someone who was fully trained and extremely well qualified and a military veteran to boot hired to fill a position that desperately needed filled.

    Today, it’s more like when I first started with the State. You can actually go take some tests, get some interviews and get hired regardless of political affiliation. And I’m speaking from experience; recently had a friend get hired that way.

    So maybe I’ve seen way too much of the seamier side of state government, but to me this whole story is just a big yawn.

  40. - RNUG - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:07 pm:

    “quantify” … darn that D+ in summer school typing class with 1 guy and +20 girls … but I had fun

  41. - Survived - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:48 pm:

    IDOT Human Resources writes the job description and they happen to know those special words and phrases that the CMS reviewer needs in order for the position to be ruled Rutan Exempt. There are multiple problems here, but, you must know that each and every position is reviewed by the Director of the office of Finance & Administration as well as others in the political process at IDOT. The people who are reviewing these position descriptions are indeed all in Rutan exempt positions. We believe justice should prevail when the law is broken as is apparent or suggested. Those people who are responsible for making these jobs exempt at IDOT should be held accountable for the alleged crime they have committed. Where is the leadership at IDOT on this issue? The fact that these newly hired employees have been moved into union protected roles is also pre-planned and another wrong done. These people unfortunately should be moved back into the Rutan exempt status they began with in their first job at IDOT. This is all a break in the trust we have in public officials. This type of allegation if proven, makes us distrust the leadership at IDOT and the Governor who appointed them.

  42. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:06 pm:

    –I remember a certain administration when there was a hard job / hiring freeze and you had to get approval from the Gov’s office for any exception. THAT was nothing more than a smokescreen to make sure the right people got hired.–

    I remember those days. Probably helped to have Doc Adams vouch for you.

  43. - Road dog - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 12:59 am:

    Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider told a Senate appropriations committee Thursday that people in those jobs are union members and repeating the hiring process would lead to costly lawsuits.

    Rutan exempt employees are “at will” employees that are not protected by union contract or anything else. As a retired 30 year veteran of IDOT I witnessed this many times. A political hack would be appointed without interview to a Rutan exempt position and within 6 months they would have their job duties redefined and be put in the union with raises every 6 months and contract protection. PQ should hope that a real investigation doesn’t happen because they can find many questionable hiring and promotion decisions by IDOT since 2003

  44. - Seen it 2 - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 6:14 am:

    Agree with Road dog - that 45 number is laughable at best. A real investigation would show political hires in the hundreds.

    I too have seen political individuals appointed to a position (without an interview) and then moved over to a protected Union position.

  45. - The Patriot - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 8:40 am:

    There is a difference between exempt jobs and those who got their job because of politics. Some of these guys are Blago holdovers. They are people making personnel decisions. So one of those people makes political decisions on hundreds of hires. Nothing new, except when qualification for the job is eliminated completely. Politics has always been involved, What has been new in the last 8-12 years in IDOT is the complete elimination of any technical qualification for technical jobs.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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