An inquiry by the Better Government Association prompted Chicago State University to launch an internal investigation into an employee who allegedly performed political work – off-site and during school hours – for a state legislator who helps provide taxpayer funding for the college.
“As a result of your inquiries, we have launched a full investigation,” university spokeswoman Deborah Douglas told a reporter for the BGA. “The university cannot give specifics on this investigation, as it is a personnel matter.”
But this much is known: the probe centers on Rory Perry, a $36,228-a-year employee with CSU’s Student Financial Assistance Outreach Center and a campaign worker for state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago.)
In December, Perry filed an objection to the nominating petitions of Preston Brown Jr., who is running against Davis in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Nominating petitions are supposed to include signatures of registered voters, and are required for candidates to get on the ballot. It’s common for rivals to comb through signatures looking for irregularities that can knock an opponent out of the race.
As part of that process, Perry and fellow outreach center staffer Roberta Coleman visited the offices of the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago on three days – Dec. 20, 21 and 22 – to inspect Brown’s petitions, according to sign-in sheets obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
The documents show that: on Dec. 20, Perry and Coleman signed in at 8:12 a.m.; on Dec. 21, they signed in at 8:37 a.m. and signed out at 5:41 p.m.; and on Dec. 22, they signed in at 8:47 a.m. It’s not clear why they signed out just one day.
Either way, Perry also signed a staff sign-in sheet for the outreach center indicating he was at work those same three days, CSU records show.
Perry signed the outreach center’s “staff sign-in sheet” for the workweek starting Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. That document indicates that Perry worked from 9:15 a.m. to 4:55 p.m. on Dec. 20, from 9:07 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 21 and from 9:10 a.m. to 4:58 p.m. on Dec. 22.
In contrast, Coleman did not complete or put her name on the sign-in sheet for the outreach center for any day that week. She told the BGA that Perry asked her to join him at the board of elections. “We were just examining the signatures to make sure that they were legitimate,” Coleman said.
“The college was closed, and we were on vacation. And I assume that we’re able to do what we want to do when we’re on vacation,” said Coleman, who directed further questions to her boss, Dozier Thomas, the outreach center’s director of operations.
Thomas also said that the outreach center was closed for the holidays on the days that Perry and Coleman were inspecting Brown’s petitions at the board of elections. When asked why Perry and several other employees signed in during a week when the office was closed, Thomas said outreach center employees work around the clock, even on off days.
“I assure you that if they’re doing [political work], they’re doing it on their own time,” Thomas said.
Rep. Davis did not respond directly to calls, and Perry declined to comment.
CSU students might have been on vacation, since final exams ended on Dec. 10, 2011, according to the university’s academic calendar for fall 2011. But a staff announcement sent two days later from the university’s human resources office shows the university was closed in December only on the following weekdays: Dec. 23, 26 and 30. Douglas, the university spokeswoman, confirmed that schedule. After the BGA’s inquiries, CSU officials asked the city elections board for documents relating to visits to the agency by Perry and Coleman.
Davis, a 25-year legislator, has deep ties to the outreach center, which helps individuals in their search for loans, grants and scholarships to attend college. The outreach center is located at an off-campus facility at 9601 S. Cottage Grove, which is known as “The Monique D. Davis Harriet Tubman Cyberspace Center.” Douglas said that Davis has directed state money to the outreach center through “member initiatives.” Every state lawmaker has the ability to direct state dollars to various efforts through member appropriations, Douglas said, adding that Davis is “exercising her privilege.”
Records show that Chicago State received $500,000 in a direct appropriation from the state last year “for all costs . . . associated with the Financial Assistance Outreach Center.” In 2006, Davis worked with the administration of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to secure $300,000 for the outreach center, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, Brown narrowly survived Perry’s petition challenge and remains on the ballot. Asked about the BGA’s findings, he said it’s “despicable” for Davis to use political workers who earn a living at a taxpayer-supported institution. “It’s the very reason why we need honesty in Illinois government, and she is not the person providing it,” Brown said.
Several other outreach center employees have engaged in campaign work for Davis. The outreach center’s executive director is Arnold M. Jordan, who serves as the chairman and treasurer of Davis’ campaign fund, Friends for Monique Davis. And the state representative has publicly acknowledged that Jordan is her boyfriend, according to news articles.
In addition, Thomas, Perry and other staffers have circulated or notarized Davis’ nominating petitions. And, in 2009, Perry filed an objection to the nominating petitions of Vernita Boyd when she filed to run against Davis. Unlike Brown, Boyd did not survive the objection. She submitted just 203 signatures, far short of the 500 required, and was removed from the ballot.
These disclosures are the latest wrinkle for Davis, who the BGA disclosed last month may have violated state law by awarding taxpayer-funded college scholarships to 10 students living outside her Far South Side district.
This story was written and reported by BGA Senior Investigator Alden Loury. He can be reached at (312) 821-9036 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.