Gov. Bruce Rauner has denied his administration is in “turmoil,” but a new re-organization of his staff shows he’s laser focused on dealing with crises — both real and political.
Deputy Governor Trey Childress finds his portfolio now bulging with new duties that make him the point man in times of crisis. And Rauner’s new communications head is Hud Englehart, an expert in crisis communications.
Those are just some of the changes found in organizational charts released by Rauner’s staff. The flow charts reflect the choppy waters the administration has had to navigate this year, showing a bevy of shifts in staff members and their responsibilities.
Childress, who is also the state’s chief operating officer, has seen his responsibilities grow — at the expense of the chief of staff.
Several cabinet officials now report directly to Childress, instead of to chief of staff Kristina Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who joined the administration this year from the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank — released the charts to staffers earlier this week.
The state’s public safety director previously reported to the chief of staff. Now, he reports directly to Childress.
“That’s a major, major thing. That’s how you handle every crisis that pops up on a daily basis. If something happens in public safety, it now is reported to Trey Childress, not the chief of staff,” said a source with knowledge of the administration. “When there’s a potential terrorist attack, when there’s a problem in the prison, when there’s a police shooting, that will no longer be reported to the chief of staff.
“Monitoring floods, tornadoes, used to be a function of the chief of staff,” the source said, adding changes may have been made due to the staff’s response to Fox and Des Plaines river flooding in July in which the governor was criticized for not declaring a disaster area.
Rauner spokesman Jason Schaumburg said the shift had nothing to do with the flooding, calling the administration’s response “completely appropriate and welcomed.” Schaumburg said “it made sense” to put Childress in charge of public safety since he oversees all the other operations functions of other agencies.
And Rasmussen on Thursday told the Sun-Times the change was made prior to the flooding.
“Trey provides day-to-day operational feedback for the agencies. So he’s very focused on rapid response, setting goals and performance,” Rasmussen said, adding she still interacts with departments but “Trey is the operations day-to-day implementation point of contact.”
She said despite Childress’ added responsibility, she is also on the line with the governor when public safety issues arise.
Additionally, agency heads now report directly to Childress, rather than to other officials, including the chief of staff.
“When Kristina Rasmussen came in, she wanted to organize the Office of the Governor to take greater advantage of talent in the office, to focus on policy formulation and legislation, and to align leadership more closely with the work of the units,” Schaumburg said.
Before joining Rauner’s administration two years ago, Childress was a partner in Perdue Partners, a global trading company launched by former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. Before that, Childress spent eight years working for Perdue in the governor’s office, including a year as chief operating officer for the state of Georgia.
Rauner’s other deputy governor has a more limited role.
Former state Comptroller Leslie Munger, who Rauner tapped for her newly created $135,000-a-year deputy governor position after she lost her re-election bid, is in charge of Illinois Bicentennial events and corresponding with taxpayers, according to the organizational charts.
But Englehart on Thursday said the chart did not reflect Munger’s other duties, which he says haven’t changed since she was appointed earlier this year. Those included being involved with economic development, human service agencies, external relations and stakeholder management during the budget fight.
Englehart is Rauner’s new communications head. He is a crisis communications expert who teaches at Northwestern University. Englehart said he was a “volunteer” on the governor’s communications team this summer, but wasn’t paid. He said Rauner met him in a meeting several years ago, and the two spoke “sporadically.”
Anne Kavanagh, a former TV reporter who now specializes in media training and crisis communication, was paid as a consultant for Rauner earlier this year. Kavanagh was brought in when the governor complained about not getting his message out. By July, all of his communications staffers were out, either fired or resigning in protest.
The governor surprised observers when he quickly replaced most of the moderate Republican staff that helped him craft his messaging with members of the think tank, which had just slammed him for being too willing to compromise with Democrats.
The communications team is now in version 3.0 after another staff purge last month amid a racially insensitive statement that Rauner “as a white male” would not comment on a controversial Illinois Policy Institute cartoon.
Two IPI staffers, as well as two other staffers hired to manage communications, were ousted after the cartoon debacle. At issue was a racially-tinged cartoon the conservative think tank posted, which was decried by legislators. Rauner’s office was tight-lipped for days about the cartoon, then released a statement, which the governor later said he didn’t approve — leading to the firings.
The following morning, the governor described the late-night staff purge of four women from his communications team – after just weeks on the job —as normal turnover.
“I disagree with the characterization of turmoil,” Rauner said, responding to a reporter’s question. “Change comes as part of any organization.”
Newly installed communications specialist Lavinia Jurkiewicz came from Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti’s office, where some of her duties including driving the lieutenant governor. Another communications specialist, Leticia Rodriguez, was most recently a secretary in the general counsel’s office.
The new communications team also includes Nicole Wilson, who previously worked for the state’s Department of Corrections.
Rasmussen said she personally hired each member of the new communications team.
“They all came in at my invitation,” Rasmussen said.
The state’s Department of Intergovernmental Affairs is not listed on the charts, but Rasmussen said they report through the state’s External Relations Department. That department serves as a liaison for the City of Chicago, mayors and county boards, among other entities.
The state’s legislative department is also smaller, with no head of House and Senate operations and less liaisons. Rasmussen said the state is recruiting an agency liaison: “This is a great example of a team that got smaller but no less efficient. They’re really amazing.”
Other changes include merging the Department of Public Engagement with the External Relations Departments, which handles operations, advance work and events. Typically, public engagement liaisons worked with minority communities and building relationships in the communities. Rasmussen said it was “very natural’ for the two departments to work together.