Jim Dey: UI lobbyist in middle of IDOT hiring scandal

Jim Dey: UI lobbyist in middle of IDOT hiring scandal

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Feb. 10, 2016, was the best and worst of times for impending University of Illinois employee Lindsay Hansen Anderson.

President Timothy Killeen was scheduled to announce the next day (Feb. 11) that he had appointed Anderson to be the UI's executive director of governmental relations at a salary of $173,400.

But that day and, again three days later, Anderson was scheduled to be interviewed by a court-appointed monitor looking into the role Anderson played in a 2009-14 illegal hiring conspiracy at the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The scandal made big news when it first broke in the middle of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign between Democratic incumbent Gov. Patrick Quinn and his Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. Quinn professed to be outraged by the scandal and demanded that employees who were improperly hired be dismissed.

It made another big splash again last week when Noelle Brennan, the outside monitor appointed by a Chicago federal judge, released an 89-page report that laid out the scandal in considerable detail.

Among those implicated in wrongdoing outlined in the report were a number of high-ranking Quinn aides. They include two who have since made a transition to the UI payroll.

Anderson, who is based in Chicago, was Quinn's legislative counsel from 2009-12 and then his senior adviser in 2012 and 2013.

The other UI hire is Ryan Croke, Quinn's chief and assistant chief of staff from 2009-15. Croke is now the associate chancellor of public affairs and chief of staff to UI Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. He receives an annual salary of $85,000.

Speaking on behalf of President Timothy Killeen, UI spokesman Thomas Hardy noted "the activities described in the newly released special monitor's report were unrelated" to the UI and "occurred before either party was employed here."

But Hardy reiterated that Killeen has "directed that appropriate U of I personnel — legal counsel, human resources and compliance — conduct a careful and thorough review of the monitor's report immediately upon becoming aware of it" and said he "review is underway."

"Behavior outlined in the report is unacceptable in the U of I System, which has a code of conduct and a strong ethics and compliance office," Hardy said, pointing out that "the university was not aware of the special monitor's process at the time (Anderson and Croke) were hired."

The report outlines how top Quinn aides pressed IDOT to hire clouted job applicants regardless of whether they had the appropriate skills to work at the department or whether there was even a job for them to fill.

Doing so required evading the merit-hiring rules applied to ordinary job seekers.

The clouted applicants included the wives and children of politically influential public officials, including legislators and campaign donors, former Quinn campaign workers and government employees looking for a raise in pay.

Patronage hiring for most positions in state government has been illegal since the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Rutan vs. the Republican Party of Illinois.

The vast majority of jobs that require merit hiring are described as "Rutan covered." The relatively few top policy-making job that can be filled by political appointment are called "Rutan exempt."

Top managers at IDOT, pressured by the governor's office, created phony Rutan-exempt "staff assistant" positions in which the clouted job candidates were placed. Later, many of the staff assistants were placed in legitimate "Rutan-covered" jobs through a phony hiring process.

Anderson and Croke were among 12 top Quinn administration officials who were interviewed by Brennan.

They uniformally denied wrongdoing. But Brennan said the testimony of other witnesses and internal communications, including email, persuaded her that the denials were "not credible."

A News-Gazette story Sunday outlined Croke's role in the illegal hiring. He was methodical in his record-keeping, maintaining a computer database on the applicants. The report reveals that Anderson also was well organized. She maintained to-do lists that "contained a list of calls to make."

"The list appeared to include the names of candidates who had been recommended for employment ... and the name of the legislators that made the recommendation," the report states.

Anderson's Dec. 17, 2010, "to do" list included such references as "Rep. Careen Gordon (two resumes), Rep. Hernandez (resume), Rep. Mautino, Senator Crotty ... (Crotty expects answer Monday), Senator Lightford, work force diversity — recommended for deputy director, Senator Munoz."

Anderson's to-do list, the monitor's report stated, appeared to identify specific governor's office staffer responsible for each request.

"For example, (Quinn's chief of operations) Simone McNeil was assigned to usher requests on behalf of (Candidate 38) and (Candidate 1)," the report states.

In her interview with the outside monitor, Anderson minimized the role she played in the wrongdoing and cited an inability to recall.

"Anderson stated she sometimes received candidate referrals from elected officials. She acknowledged that she would pass the candidates to agencies and check on the status. She referred to her role as a 'messenger' tasked with sharing information between elected officials and the agencies," the report states.

Anderson also said she received requests from legislators asking for updates, but maintained that "a candidate's name next to an elected official's name did not necessarily mean the candidate was sponsored by that official."

Monitor Brennan was not persuaded by that denial, stating that "our investigation suggests the candidates on her 'to do' lists were in fact sponsored by the corresponding elected official."

Despite Anderson's inability to recall specifics, documents turned up by the monitor indicate she was in contact with numerous legislators regarding the jobs issue.

"The following were approved last night. Jack wanted you to be aware so the appropriate legislator could be notified," an assistant to top Quinn aide Jack Lavin emailed Anderson on June 24, 2011.

"I have reached out to all of them (although I haven't been able to get through to Mayfield)," Anderson responded, referring to a group of five legislators including state Rep. Rita Mayfield of Waukegan.

It wasn't easy juggling the details of placing unqualified job candidates in unnecessary jobs, and Anderson sometimes found herself in the middle of problems caused by phony hiring policies, including putting clouted applicants into temporary positions.

Consider her adventures with Staff Assistant 5, who had worked as a bank manager and was sponsored by state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez of Cicero.

"I'm getting frantic phone calls because (SA 5) got a termination notice. Do you know anything about it," Anderson emailed Quinn deputy chief of staff Mark Harris on April 20, 2011.

SA 5's temporary 60-day hire had expired, and he'd been laid off. Five days later, he was back on the payroll, serving the second of what would be four 60-day "emergency hires."

The duties SA 5 performed matched neither his staff assistant policy-making job description nor his skills. He worked inspecting roads, supervising contractors and preparing work orders. He finally landed a permanent position at IDOT in November 2011.

SA 6 proved to be an even bigger headache. SA 6 was sponsored by former state Sen. Gary Forby of Benton. A past Democratic Party chairwoman in Franklin County, SA 6 had worked as a travel counselor and deli manager at WalMart and Kroger, had no college education and no experience in transportation and government policy.

That proved to be no problem.

She landed what was supposed to be a policy-making staff assistant post, a move that boosted her pay from $6,000 a year to $45,720. SA 6 was supposed to assist "in the overall development and coordination of policy and directives" in her IDOT district. Instead, she handled mail, answered phones and took care of sign in/sign out sheets."

Anderson was thrilled when she heard her efforts to get SA 6 a job had paid off.

"Thanks. I've been waiting for that one — I'll reach out in the morning," she emailed a co-worker, presumably referring to her intention of letting Forby know his candidate was on the state payroll.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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EdRyan wrote on May 09, 2017 at 7:05 am

Rutan decision you say?  Like that actually changed the way things work in Illinois regardless of which variety of politician is holding the office.  

wykhb wrote on May 09, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Those things happened BEFORE the UI hired them?   Obviously they knew about it, or they didn't, either way there are questions to be answered because they know for sure now.   Who gets fired?   Right.