Clout hiring and promotions have been in the spotlight lately at Metra, where a lot of talk has surrounded the influence of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
But we shouldn’t forget the other big transit agency in the Chicago region – the CTA – where patronage and nepotism haven’t exactly disappeared.
We recently discovered a daughter of one of the CTA’s veteran board members, Charles Robinson, is not only an employee at the CTA, but that she escaped the latest round of layoffs in which her job classification was eliminated.
In fact, Robinson’s daughter, Charlie Westbrook, was shifted to a new position – similar title, same salary of about $40,000 – days before the restructuring plan was adopted in September by the CTA board, her dad included, according to records and interviews.
To be fair, she wasn’t the only person transferred into a new gig, nor was she the only one in her section saved from the ax. But, she was among a chosen few, so we thought it was worth an inquiry.
Was clout the reason she was transferred and not laid off?
Absolutely not, says a CTA spokesman.
Was clout the reason she was hired at the CTA in the first place – in 2003 as an intern, or in 2007 as a full-timer?
Don’t know, says the spokesman, noting Westbrook was hired back when Frank Kruesi was CTA president. Forrest Claypool is in charge now.
Couldn’t reach Kruesi. Westbrook wouldn’t talk. Robinson, a minister originally appointed to the CTA board by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, said he pulled no strings.
Slap On Wrist for Tea With Twist
Like an L train circling back to a Loop station, the Regional Transportation Authority’s Jordan Matyas is back in the news.
Matyas, if you’ll recall, is Michael Madigan’s son-in-law and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s brother-in-law. He’s also chief of staff at the RTA, the umbrella group for the CTA, Metra and Pace.
The Sun-Times reported last fall how Matyas and his boss at the time were being investigated by the state’s inspector general for “sexual and racial harassment complaints.”
Now comes word Matyas was “verbally counseled” in recent weeks for consuming “a very small amount of alcohol on RTA premises, during normal business hours,” according to a personnel record obtained from the agency.
Matyas was advised “against consuming any amount of alcohol on the premises in the future,” the document states.
We’re told that Matyas was sick and used what was described as an old home recipe for fighting a cold – some booze in his tea.
Alderman’s Spouse Hired At CHA
The Madigan clan isn’t the only power family on the public payroll.
Darlena Williams-Burnett, wife of Chicago Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), just ended up with a plumb job at the Chicago Housing Authority, overseeing the agency’s office leases and fleet of vehicles.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel controls the CHA, and Ald. Burnett is someone the mayor surely wants to keep happy.
But the CHA insists the hiring of the alderman’s wife – for $115,000 a year – was handled objectively.
Williams-Burnett, who had been a top official at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office under Gene Moore, echoed that: “I don’t know that who I’m married to had any bearing. I don’t think it did.”
An agency spokeswoman said Williams-Burnett’s hiring was conducted by the CHA’s human resources department with input from a committee that included CHA Chief of Staff Amy Degnan Gempeler.
Push And Pull At Housing Agency
Gempeler’s maiden name might sound familiar: She’s a niece to Daley’s close friend and long-ago political/patronage chief Tim Degnan, and she’s one of the Daley loyalists now working for Emanuel.
Long ago, Gempeler was Daley’s City Hall point person on a lucrative bus shelter contract awarded to JCDecaux, whose lobbyist is another former Daley patronage master, Victor Reyes.
While the CHA lauds her experience, a now-former CHA official singled her out rather directly in a resignation letter last year – raising issues that neither the official, Michael Jasso, nor CHA bosses will now discuss.
Jasso, the CHA’s then-chief development officer, wrote “that the managerial style and decisions of the Chief of Staff, and the Executive Staff’s acceptance of this style, results in an environment that is neither conducive to meeting the challenges before the agency nor advancing the goals so compellingly expressed in Plan Forward.”
The Plan Forward is the CHA’s latest strategy to transform public housing.
We also asked the CHA about what seemed to be an unusual arrangement with Gempeler: That she works only four days a week – at $155,000 a year.
“In her current role, Ms. Degnan Gempeler earns less than the salary range for an executive-level Chief of Staff at five days a week,” the CHA spokeswoman said via email.
This column — a new regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing on the Chicago Sun-Times’ political portal Early & Often — was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth, Patrick Rehkamp and Brett Chase. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9030.