- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has not fully cooperated in an examination of improper political hiring in Illinois, a federal court monitor said Thursday.

A review of hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation - spurred by a decades-old anti-patronage lawsuit - showed at least one improper hire last spring. And special master Noelle Brennan indicated in an updated report filed in federal court in Chicago that IDOT has been slow to accommodate her investigation.

A spokesman said the Rauner administration continues to work “to clean up the mess we inherited.”

The review has its roots in a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted political hiring in Illinois state government. The ruling, known as “Rutan,” declared a governor could only consider a would-be employee’s politics if the job required loyalty to the boss or handling confidential information. Those “at-will” employees may be hired or fired for any reason.

But an IDOT hiring scandal under former Gov. Pat Quinn prompted anti-patronage activist Michael Shakman to seek an extension to state employment the rules from a separate decree he won in 1972 over Chicago and Cook County hiring.

The court appointed the special master.

Despite assurances from the Rauner administration, which took office in January, that it knew of no Rutan violations, Brennan pointed out there was one unidentified employee hired improperly at IDOT in April; the employee was removed when Brennan pointed out the error, but who is now on another state-agency payroll.

IDOT was instructed to let Brennan’s staff review hires to nonpolitical, protected positions but made several without oversight, Brennan said.

While noting the department has completed “important steps” toward reform, Brennan said that IDOT has also refused to turn over requested employment documents and that her team questions the accuracy of some IDOT pronouncements.

“We have provided the special master with volumes of information,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in an email Thursday night. “Her report comments on a few isolated mistakes made during the complex process, which were promptly acknowledged and, when possible, corrected.”

Brennan’s updated report includes a section on past abuses of Rutan protection in state government, including efforts to hire the step-daughter of an unidentified state senator. Politicians slid applicants with political clout into jobs supposedly free of politics and insulated by civil service protections. Instead of determining a need for a protected position and conducting “blind” hiring, a favored applicant was first identified and a position manipulated to fit, the report said.

The 1991 process developed for determining positions that should be open to anyone, Brennan concluded, is “overly broad and too vague to produce reliable Rutan determinations and should no longer be used.” CMS keeps the guidelines secret and denied an Associated Press request under the Freedom of Information Act last summer to review them.

Brennan continued to call for a freeze on filling any position that is covered by the hiring rules until the process is sorted out. Of particular concern to the monitor is the method by which an employee can be hired based on politics, but then enjoy civil service protections or be eligible to join a union with accompanying rights that complicate dismissal, defeating the purpose of the Rutan rules.

State officials say a freeze would cripple its ability to fill critical positions.


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