SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn deflected blame for state hiring problems Tuesday, saying agencies must follow anti-patronage hiring rules – even when the candidates are those the governor’s office favors.
The Democrat, locked in one of the nation’s most watched election races for governor against Republican Bruce Rauner, responded to questions in Chicago about an investigative report released Friday. It found the Illinois Department of Transportation circumvented clout-busting regulations and improperly hired 255 people to midlevel “staff assistant” positions in the past 10 years.
Ann Schneider, the former transportation secretary who resigned suddenly in June, responded to the report by saying Quinn’s office recommended the “vast majority” of candidates and she felt pressured to hire them.
“All departments have a duty to make sure that they comply with the rules that I’ve set down and rules that are set in law,” Quinn said Tuesday when asked about the allegation. “I expect that, and I expect accountability.”
Also Tuesday, Quinn’s deputy chief of staff in charge of IDOT oversight resigned, but the governor’s office said Sean O’Shea is leaving for a private-sector job and his departure from the $130,000 job is not related to fallout from the investigation.
Although the misuse of staff assistant positions dates to 2003, the Office of the Executive Inspector General said in its report that the process accelerated in 2010 and 2011, after Quinn took office.
IDOT responded last week by laying off 58 people who still held the staff assistant positions and instituting reforms.
At issue are U.S. Supreme Court rules that say a governor may only hire without open interviews when the job involves policymaking or confidential information. The investigation found IDOT created job descriptions that involved such duties but the workers in them mowed lawns and answered phones.
The report found no evidence Quinn was aware of the subterfuge. He said Tuesday when he learned of the issue, he “took immediate action.”
That initially meant a months-long review of five dozen remaining staff assistant’s jobs for applicability of the anti-patronage rules. But in the end, Quinn said it was acting secretary Erica Borggren’s decision to eliminate the posts.
Quinn was asked whether that set the state up for a lawsuit similar to a case won by 16 IDOT workers dismissed in 2003, which cost the state millions of dollars to settle.
“We’ll take that as it comes,” Quinn said. “We thought the proper way to go, based on the report, was to abolish that position.”
O’Shea, 37, joined the state in August 2011. He was the governor’s liaison to IDOT, and the investigative report found no evidence of wrongdoing on his part. Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said O’Shea’s last day is Friday, he is leaving for a private-industry job and his departure is not related to the hiring scandal.
O’Shea did not immediately return a message left at his office by The Associated Press.
Rauner’s campaign claimed Quinn is “misleading” voters about his role in the incident.
“This scandal goes straight to the top,” a campaign statement said. “There’s no one left to fire except Quinn himself.”