Calling the level of patronage in state government "inconceivable," Chicago attorney Mike Shakman filed a court motion Tuesday that seeks to severely limit clout hiring under Gov. Pat Quinn and any successors.
The filing was prompted by a months-long Better Government Association investigation in 2013 that found hundreds of Illinois Department of Transportation employees may have been wrongly hired based on clout – in other words, political or personal connections – rather than qualifications.
The motion, which was filed in federal court, seeks to remove hundreds of questionable hires from their jobs, and would require the jobs "be filled through appropriate, non-political processes." It’s a motion within the long-standing 1972 court case that produced the "Shakman Decree," which limits clout hiring, firing and promotions in Chicago and Cook County governments.
Read More: Clout Hiring Persists Under Quinn
Rules intended to limit patronage in state government are routinely circumvented, a BGA investigation finds.
The BGA investigation, published in the State Journal-Register, showed that IDOT administrators were manipulating job descriptions to evade so-called "Rutan" rules, which were put in place after a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that was supposed to end clout hiring in state government, save a few top-level policy and media-handling positions.
Shakman’s motion noted that, of IDOT’s roughly 5,200 employees, 516 positions were technically exempt from Rutan as of last September – meaning political considerations and other subjective factors could play into the hiring for those jobs. The court filing portrayed that as an "extraordinary" total.
What’s more, the BGA found IDOT crafted job descriptions to make it seem like many positions carried policy and media responsibilities when they didn’t. IDOT then used that as cover to fill jobs with who they wanted regardless of skills, the BGA found.
"When you get to [such a high] level, it’s not credible, it’s not believable, what in the world would they be making policy for?" Shakman said in an interview.
Shakman is asking the court to appoint a "monitor" to watch over state hiring, similar to what’s in place in the City of Chicago and some Cook County offices. Since the original 1972 "Shakman" case’s jurisdiction only affects the federal court’s Northern District of Illinois, the monitor could only oversee jobs that are based in, or do business in, northern Illinois, Shakman said.
Shakman said the move to appoint a monitor is necessary, because the Rutan rules simply aren’t working.
"The issue with Rutan is there’s no enforcement mechanism, and as the facts show, if you don’t have an enforcement mechanism, you don’t get the results you’re looking for," he said.
On Tuesday, Quinn’s spokesman struck a conciliatory tone, saying via email that "when this [BGA] report first surfaced last summer, the Governor immediately directed the Secretary of Transportation to conduct an audit to get to the bottom of this. Since then, these issues have been thoroughly investigated and IDOT is taking appropriate action to resolve these issues and ensure this does not happen again."
IDOT released a written statement that said in part: "The hiring of Staff Assistants [the job classification at the root of much of the Rutan manipulation] began in 2003 under the previous administration, and was suspended when new information came to light last year. Moving forward, these re-classified positions will be hired through the Rutan process."
This article was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Patrick McCraney. He can be reached at (815) 483-1612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Shakman’s motion references former Quinn communications director Bob Reed. Reed currently works at the BGA as director of programming and investigations.