SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Department of Transportation increased the number of jobs that can be filled based on politics or loyalty by 57 percent in the last decade, documents released Friday show.
Gov. Pat Quinn's office divulged 137 pages of memos sought by an anti-patronage activist in a lawsuit filed this week. Attorney Michael Shakman of Chicago wants a federal judge to order an investigation of hiring under the Democratic governor. The documents are copies of memos written between Quinn's office and IDOT from 2011 through summer 2013.
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They deal with the hiring of people for "staff assistant" positions -- generally paying about $40,000 a year -- that the administration deemed were exempt from rules set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1990 ruling on an Illinois case known as Rutan. The Better Government Association reported last summer that IDOT skirted Rutan prohibitions on hiring based on politics or loyalty by putting people into the staff assistant positions.
Sometimes, the report found, they were then moved into protected jobs, often with union protection to make it harder to terminate them.
Quinn has said he took action immediately last summer and ordered an audit of jobs to determine whether Rutan applied to them.
"We have zero tolerance for any violation of hiring procedures," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in a statement.
The number of discretionary positions increased at IDOT, Anderson said, during a time of augmented investment in construction, not only because of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus program, but Quinn's $31 billion, Illinois Jobs Now statewide construction program.
Rutan is supposed to apply to lower-level positions, reserving them for the most qualified applicants, not necessarily the ones with the most clout. Those positions exempt from Rutan are supposed to be policymaking positions, the idea being that a governor should be able to hire whomever he wants for his closest advisers and confidantes.
Shakman found 374 Rutan-exempt positions at IDOT, which he said was an "extraordinary" number of policymaking positions at an agency which, according to state records, had just under 7,000 employees in December.
One employee identified in the public documents who was hired as a staff assistant is Tim Carroll, son of Leo Carroll of Teamsters Local 916, who is listed on the union website as executive assistant. The governor's accountability website shows Tim Carroll made $50,400 at Transportation last year.
A number for Tim Carroll could not be located Friday. An email left after hours through the Teamsters for Leo Carroll was not immediately returned.
The BGA report prompted Shakman, for whom a 40-year-old anti-patronage decree is named, to file a motion in federal court this week asking for a monitor to investigate Quinn hiring. In it, he says he requested correspondence between the governor's office and IDOT regarding the filling of staff assistant positions. He made the request under the Freedom of Information Act in September 2013, but Quinn denied disclosure under an exception that allows withholding documents characterized as "preliminary" or in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated.
Anderson said Quinn's office offered the documents to Shakman Monday -- the day before he filed his motion -- but he did not accept them. Shakman said he did not want to hold up his lawsuit "just to get some documents."
"They recognized the judge was going to make them give them up. They're just trying to get ahead of the curve," Shakman said Friday. "If they had wanted to be more forthcoming, they could have released them last fall when I asked for them."
IDOT said the audit Quinn ordered was of 61 positions -- those still classified as staff assistants -- and that the state's personnel agency, the Department of Central Management Services, found that Rutan applied to 50 of them. IDOT said Rutan restrictions would be followed when filling those positions going forward but did not indicate that anyone would lose his job.
Anderson on Friday reported an updated number, saying that 48 of 60 posts were found to be misclassified and should be covered by Rutan rules.