CHICAGO – Reacting to persistent problems at a state agency, Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday ordered a moratorium on political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation and directed that executive-level staff in every state agency undergo training about proper hiring practices.
The Chicago Democrat's actions, which also included ordering an outside audit of past IDOT hires, come amid questions about whether state jobs were improperly filled based on clout rather than qualifications.
The Associated Press obtained copies of memos sent by Quinn's attorney to IDOT leadership and the heads of all agencies, boards and commissions.
The action comes on the heels of the resignation of state Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider this week after questions were raised about her stepdaughter being on the agency payroll. That was quickly followed by the resignation of a deputy director in the department, Mike Woods.
In April, Chicago anti-patronage campaigner Michael Shakman asked a federal judge to order increased oversight of hiring at IDOT.
Quinn is facing a tough re-election campaign this year against Republican businessman Bruce Rauner of Winnetka, who is attempting to undermine the governor's assertion that he has cleaned up Illinois government after two predecessors were sentenced to prison.
One memo to IDOT officials said the measures showed the Quinn administration's dedication to "ensuring and maintaining the organizational integrity of the Illinois Department of Transportation."
But Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf called Quinn's measures an "election-year maneuver that won't fool voters."
Shakman said it appeared that Quinn was "scrambling" to avoid his request that a federal court appoint an independent monitor of how IDOT fills jobs.
"The history of allowing government agencies to correct their own patronage problems is dismal," Shakman said. "For the governor to come along now and say 'OK guys, we can fix it this time isn't very persuasive."
According to the memos, Quinn ordered the outside audit of IDOT political hires to determine if the positions were properly filled. The moratorium on political hires will last until the governor's office "has determined that the corrective actions ... are being successfully implemented," the memos say.
In addition, the department's internal auditors will be tasked with regularly reviewing political hires to ensure positions are properly classified and proper hiring practices are being followed. Quinn has also ordered the creation and implementation of a merit-based classification and salary plan for political hires.
State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat and frequent critic of the state's transportation agencies, said Thursday the proof of Quinn's seriousness in solving the problem would come in the months ahead, if the governor wins re-election. He noted that in the past the administration has rehired officials who have resigned.
"I don't take it very seriously," Franks said. "He's reactive. He has another crisis, and of course heads are going to roll."