The head of the Illinois Department of Transportation resigned Monday following questions about patronage hiring at the agency.
Ann Schneider’s resignation comes after longtime anti-patronage crusader Michael Shakman called for a federal judge to order an investigation into government hiring following a Better Government Association investigation that revealed Schneider’s stepdaughter had been put on the payroll and promoted at the agency.
Schneider was appointed by Quinn in 2011 to head up IDOT. The resignation could lessen a political headache for Gov. Pat Quinn during an election year.
In a news release touting her replacement with Veterans Affairs Director Erica Borggren, Quinn devoted one line to the outgoing department head: “I also thank Ann Schneider for her years of hard work and dedication and wish her well.”
A story in mid-June by a BGA staff member raised questions about the hiring and promotion of Schneider’s stepdaughter, Ashley Carpenter. Carpenter was hired as a staff assistant and is now a data analyst with IDOT’s division of aeronautics, making just under $53,000 annually, the BGA reported. She is now covered by anti-patronage rules, meaning she cannot be fired for political reasons, the report said.
“I’m good at what I do,” Carpenter was quoted as saying.
The BGA said that in April, Schneider said she did not know about issues of political hiring involving staff assistants.
“I was under the assumption that the job descriptions accurately reflected the work that those people would be doing when they came on,” Schneider said at the time.
The BGA contends Quinn continued a scheme started by impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich that improperly classified nonpolitical positions as one that could be filled by political appointees. Shakman alleges that many of these hires later were promoted or transferred to unionized positions in order to make it more difficult to fire them. The attorney argues that the questionable hiring stopped in late 2011 or early 2012 when the state’s Office of Executive Inspector General began an investigation.
Quinn has said he learned of accusations of political hiring at IDOT last summer and “immediately ordered” the agency to conduct an audit, saying he has “zero tolerance for anything on hiring that isn’t exactly according to the rules.”
Despite his political outsider persona, Quinn is no stranger to patronage. After serving as an organizer for Democrat Dan Walker’s successful 1972 campaign for governor, Quinn joined Walker’s staff, where his duties included dishing out patronage as a liaison to state lawmakers.
Later, Quinn left the Illinois Industrial Commission after lawmakers launched an investigation into whether Walker had been hiding the payroll costs of governor’s office workers on state boards and commissions to make it look like the governor’s payroll had dropped.
Her replacement has no transportation experience.