The federal court-appointed monitor tasked with digging into patronage problems at the Illinois Department of Transportation issued her first report this week, and at the Better Government Association, we’re encouraged.
Finally, it appears for the first time since the BGA’s investigation into illegal political hiring, firing and promotions at IDOT in 2013, someone has both the interest and the authority to clean up the political mess that plagues the agency.
In our reporting, the BGA uncovered how beginning under now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and continuing under former-Gov. Pat Quinn, IDOT management was circumventing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, called “Rutan,” which was supposed to effectively eliminate politics as a consideration in who gets what job.
Based on our reports, Chicago anti-patronage attorney Michael Shakman sued Quinn’s administration, which led to the appointment of attorney Noelle Brennan as IDOT’s “special master” in charge of cleaning up the mess.
In a 30-page filing released to the court Wednesday, Brennan outlined several problems, including a couple that stand out to us:
- IDOT Should Create and Maintain Accurate Job Descriptions – We agree. This one is crucial. We’ve found many IDOT job descriptions are at best, vague, and at worst, fraudulent. It’s not too much to ask to know what IDOT workers are really supposed to be doing.
- IDOT Should Identify Rutan-Exempt Union-Covered Positions – Brennan writes, “there is an inherent conflict between Rutan-exempt status and union status.” We completely agree. There’s no reason we can see why political hires should be afforded protection by unions. If you’re in a job that can be hired for political reasons – spokesperson or policy-maker, say – a new governor should be able to replace you. This changed under Blagojevich with many low-level “policy” positions (which, we found, weren’t doing policy work at all.) It needs to change back.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has pledged to help Brennan do her job, and not stand in her way. His spokeswoman, Catherine Kelly, reiterated that yesterday in a statement:
“The report confirms that previous governors were engaged in a corrupt bargain with government unions, making illegal hires and putting them into protected government union positions. Governor Rauner is committed to reversing the illegal hiring scheme and enacting civil service reforms that will prevent these types of abuses from happening in the future,” Kelly wrote.
Let’s hope. We’ll be watching.
Links to past BGA coverage on IDOT problems: