IDOT hired 1,765 after Rauner asked for freeze
Gov. Bruce Rauner's request for a hiring freeze fizzled at the Illinois Department of Transportation, where 1,765 workers were added following his Nov. 4 election.
About 93 percent, or 1,648 of those workers, were temporary employees hired for snowplowing duties during the winter. Most of the remaining positions were 108 maintenance workers plus nine administrative and technical employees, according to information released in response to a Daily Herald public records request.
The numbers demonstrate a difference between rhetoric and reality that's not uncommon as new political forces take over in Springfield, experts say.
"Every governor that's been elected as far as I can remember has called for a hiring freeze," said Kent Redfield, University of Illinois at Springfield professor emeritus of political studies.
"A hiring freeze allows the governor to control hiring and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. It shifts power away from the agencies and that can be a good or a bad thing."
Visiting Springfield on Nov. 20, after his Nov. 4 election but before his Jan. 12 inauguration, Rauner asked for a hiring freeze to be imposed and called the state's financial health "horrible," "stunningly bad" and "dire." The governor is expected to talk more about the budget in his State of the State speech Wednesday.
A spokesman for Rauner declined to comment on IDOT hiring.
Tridgell said IDOT typically fills temporary snowplow driver jobs each winter to ensure there's "adequate manpower 24/7 to meet the needs of our snow and ice response."
"This approach ... is considered critical to public safety," he said. "In almost every instance, these are not new hires, but experienced plow and truck drivers who are recalled to IDOT in the winter and let go in the spring."
Wages for the seasonal snowplow drivers -- if they work five months -- come to $21,875 each and could total more than $36 million for all 1,648. The average salaries for the 117 full-time employees add up to nearly $7 million.
The full-time jobs included 106 highway maintainers (average salary $58,680) for snow, ice and other emergency duties and two maintenance workers (average salary $69,852).
Nine other hires are two office coordinators (average salary of $49,056), two engineers (average salary $97,164), two executive secretaries (average salary $54,468), a technical manager (average salary $88,308), an office assistant (average salary $42,720) and an accountant (average salary $58,680).
"The 11 positions that did not involve highway maintenance and safety were mainly clerical positions that were considered essential to day-to-day operations," Tridgell said.
The jobs were filled following a hiring process started months earlier and all candidates went through competitive interviews and had background checks, Tridgell said.
"We are in close contact with the governor's office regarding any future personnel decisions," he said.
The day of his inauguration, Rauner ordered a freeze on all discretionary spending and told state agencies to submit reports of hiring decisions and contracts made since Nov. 1 to his office of management and budget. He allowed for "essential" expenditures needed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of residents and prevent a disruption in critical state services.
Rauner has named former Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning executive director Randy Blankenhorn as his new IDOT secretary.
IDOT made the hires between Nov. 5 and Jan. 9. The agency posted 54 job openings between Nov. 5 and Jan. 13.
"A hiring freeze sounds good ... 'we're going to tighten our belts and only allow essential spending,'" said Redfield, of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs in Urbana. But "you also have to keep the trains running."