'Friends' not just a TV show

'Friends' not just a TV show

It's not just the big shots who try to game the state's hiring rules. So do the little shots.

Should two lifelong friends participate in a supposedly unbiased job interview — one answering the questions while the other scores the responses and makes recommendations on who gets hired.

Unquestionably, no.

Even in the unlikely event that everything is conducted on the up and up, it looks indefensibly bad to those concerned about the appearance, as well as the reality, of impropriety.

But that's what happened at the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2014, when longtime Illinois Department of Transportation supervisor Laura Campbell participated in a job interview with her neighbor and longtime close friend, Paul Lee.

Lee — wonder of wonders — got the job. But in an even greater surprise, Campbell was sanctioned with a 30-day suspension for her egregiously bad judgment as well as her lack of candor about what transpired when investigators began their inquiries.

The facts here are too weird to believe. But it just goes to show that the large-scale illegal hiring conspiracy at IDOT led by top officials of former Gov. Pat Quinn's administration isn't all the public has to worry about.

People love to put their fingers on the scale, particularly if they personally benefit from the influence-peddling and almost as much if they can do a special favor for a family member or friend.

Here's what happened, according to a report filed recently by the state's Executive Office of Inspector General.

Lee, who was retired from his job at Archer Daniels Midland as a vehicle coordinator, was contacted by his neighbor, Campbell, who was aware that IDOT was looking to hire someone to fill a fleet management assistant's job.

She not only told Lee she thought he'd be "good for the job" but brought him a job application to fill out. After filling it out, Lee returned the application to Campbell to file on his behalf.

When it came time for the job interview, Campbell was among a panel of IDOT employees interviewing Lee, who was scored as the top candidate among 65 applicants.

Well, maybe he was, and maybe he wasn't.

About a year later, the inspector general received an anonymous complaint about the monkey business in the hiring process. An investigation ensued.

Campbell's defense was that she told her co-interviewers that she knew Lee but didn't realize it would look bad if she was among those who interviewed him.

Campbell's co-interviewers said they didn't recall much about the Lee interview, but they were unaware Campbell and Lee were friends. If they had known, they said, they would have arranged for an interviewer other than Campbell to participate in the Lee interview.

While insisting that she could fairly consider the job applicants, Campbell acknowledged to investigators that, looking back in hindsight, she understood how "her interview of Mr. Lee could be perceived as a conflict of interest" and that she should have avoided the appearance of impropriety. But she said she was "infuriate(d) to my core" that investigators concluded that she was untruthful when she said she told her co-interviewers that she knew Lee.

She suggested her two co-interviewers were out to get her, described herself as a model employee with an "unblemished" record and "exemplary evaluations" and said she could have avoided the problem entirely if IDOT had a specific rule that friends couldn't interview friends for positions in the department.

"IDOT now has a form in place to record an interviewer's knowledge of the (job) candidates and how they know that candidate. If the form that is now afforded to the interviewers had been available to me from the department, I would not be facing this allegation today," she said.

So, once again, it's clear that many people do not think the rules — whether written or just plain common sense — do not apply to them. It's the "I'm-a-good-person-and-I-can-do-whatever-I-think-is-appropriate" defense.

But it's not a defense, and it didn't apply to Campbell. But don't worry about her. At 52, she's retired from her $83,800 job at IDOT after a 34-year career but back on the IDOT payroll under a contract arrangement that pays her $45 an hour.

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