Ann Schneider speaks at Metra Task Force Meeting / BGA
How’s this for irony?
The task force Gov. Pat Quinn formed last summer to look into, among other things, ethics and clout hiring at Metra just held its final meeting this week.
Among the recommendations: A “firewall” to ensure politics stays out of hiring and promotions at Metra and other transit agencies.
Here’s the strange part:
The group’s co-chair is none other than Ann Schneider, Quinn’s Illinois Department of Transportation secretary, who began work on the task force just weeks after the Better Government Association’s report on clout hiring at IDOT.
How about cleaning up her own house first?
Schneider didn’t want to talk about that. At that final Metra task force meeting at the Bilandic Building in the Loop, we tried to ask her about IDOT’s widespread abuse of the state’s so-called Rutan rules, which are meant to severely limit clout hiring in state government. She walked away without saying a word.
Her press aide, Jae Miller, made sure of it, standing in front of the BGA’s video camera, telling us Schneider would be “happy to meet with you on a separate date” to talk about Rutan issues.
We’re not holding our breath. We requested to talk to Schneider about clout hiring several times in the last year. Every time, we either got no response, or were told Schneider wouldn’t talk until the Office of the Executive Inspector General wrapped up its own investigation of the matter.
Problem is, the OEIG never released a report, and that office says state law prevents officials there from talking about their investigation, or even acknowledging it happened until a public report is released. And, this being Illinois, many reports are never made public because of the way the state’s ethics laws are crafted.
But this is a serious matter. The BGA’s investigation found widespread abuse of job postings, where IDOT was adding “policy” or “spokesperson” responsibilities to jobs that didn’t normally have them. Those are the buzzwords that allow IDOT to hire someone under the “Rutan exempt” label.
In other words, it means hundreds of jobs may have been wrongfully filled because of clout rather than competence.
Quinn’s press aide, Brooke Anderson, did not immediately respond to questions about whether Schneider has been ordered by Quinn to keep quiet about Rutan. However, in the past, Anderson has said the governor takes the allegations seriously.
IDOT released the following statement hours after snubbing the BGA:
“We continually review all personnel and hiring procedures and always stand ready to address any issues that arise. Secretary Schneider holds every IDOT employee to the highest ethical standards and has zero tolerance for waste, fraud or abuse.”
The BGA isn’t letting this issue go until it’s clear the matter is cleaned up. Since the IDOT secretary is still refusing to talk about it, you can bet there’s a long way to go.
This blog entry was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Patrick McCraney, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (815) 483-1612.