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Article updated: 1/30/2013 11:29 PM

Probe: State prison hire lacked required experience

By

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Department of Corrections filled a high-ranking prison administrator's position with a man whose education and experience fell far short of the agency's requirements, according to a state investigation released Wednesday.

The report by the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission did not name the administrator or the prison where he works, but it indicated he had prior experience only in teaching theater, as an assistant manager at a "movie store," and managing an office for "his father's campaign." The report did not elaborate on the type of campaign.

Administration officials said Wednesday that the employee is qualified for the work now but that Corrections will review hiring practices going forward.

It's the second time in less than three months that Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza has found hiring violations in Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's administration. Meza reported in November that he found 10 violations of hiring law at the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The Department of Corrections' description for the prison job cited the need for extensive educational and practical experience in criminology, penal administration and prison supervision, among others. Corrections Director S.A. "Tony" Godinez, who is named in the report, acknowledged that the job required the ability to run the entire prison in an emergency.

Godinez, who told investigators he knew there were written qualifications but hadn't seen them, said the man's experience suited him for developing and conducting programs at the prison. But Godinez confirmed that the man "did not meet any of the remaining requirements outlined in the job description," according to the report.

The commission recommended that Quinn's office "take appropriate action" in the case of the employee because he wasn't qualified. One of Quinn's lawyers responded in writing to the commission that a review of the employee's status showed that he "has achieved the requisite education and employment experience" for the job.

Asked whether that meant the employee benefited from on-the-job training, Quinn administration spokeswoman Alka Nayyar said that the assessment of the employee's "current education and employment experience" shows that he "meets the job description requirements today."

Nayyar did not respond to a question about whether other state jobs are filled in the same manner but acknowledged that, as the report notes, the department should have conducted an assessment before the hire.

Alleged hiring problems by the administration of Quinn's predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, are what first drew the interest of federal prosecutors and eventually led to the Democrat's conviction for political corruption and a 14-year prison sentence.

The hiring issues at the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity involved jobs that are subject to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits hiring based on political considerations, a decree that came from an Illinois case known as "Rutan."

The Corrections position discussed in the report is one that is exempt from Rutan rules, meaning the governor's administration may hire someone who has political connections. But the commission noted that Corrections listed six detailed qualifications for the post, and that state policy requires an agency to ensure a hiring candidate "meets the minimum training and experience qualifications for the position."

The report named Godinez and executive assistant Jerry Buscher as being responsible for the hire. Godinez told investigators education is important but he "looks primarily to intangibles like energy and thought process" when hiring for such a post.

The job calls for "formulating, organizing and directing the overall program services" at a prison and includes daily inspection tours for security, safety and sanitation.

The employee told investigators he thought he would succeed in the position because he had taught substance abuse prevention to junior high students, high school dropouts and juveniles on probation.

He acknowledged he did not meet at least four of the six requirements for the job, including supervisory experience in a prison.

The commission also recommended an assessment of hiring practices. The Corrections Department issued a statement Wednesday that it will conduct a "comprehensive review," make sure its senior staff members are familiar with hiring procedures and "take additional steps to verify" that all applicants meet job requirements.

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