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Rauner announces layoffs of 29 IDOT patronage hires

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP challenger Bruce Rauner attend an Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly at the Chicago Hilton in 2014. File Photo. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Two years after an Illinois Department of Transportation patronage scandal shook up a contentious governor’s race, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration on Thursday issued layoff notices to 29 remaining “staff assistants” — the positions at the heart of the political hiring mess.

“Our administration has put an end to the illegal patronage hiring that started under [former Gov. Rod] Blagojevich and continued under [former Gov. Pat] Quinn,” Rauner said in a statement. “Since taking office, we have worked for taxpayers to ensure proper hiring at all of our state agencies. This is an additional step to restore citizens’ faith in state government so it works for them and not the political insiders.”

The last day for the staff assistants will be Sept. 15. Rauner’s administration said the group was laid off on Thursday after the state reached a settlement with the union representing the workers, Teamsters Local 916.

Part of the settlement included abolishing the position of “staff assistant” within IDOT.

The hiring scandal came to a head in April 2014 when attorney Michael Shakman argued that the Quinn administration was filling positions based on political considerations instead of qualifications.

Then, in August 2014, after the release of a stinging report by Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza that called the hirings improper, Quinn’s administration announced layoffs of 58 employees at the department. His administration was then sued by the employees’ union.

The report revealed Quinn had failed to halt patronage practices at IDOT after he replaced Blagojevich. It found hundreds of people were hired into “staff assistant” positions without having to go through strict hiring procedures.

The report found that hiring rules had been skirted at IDOT since 2003 but could not conclude that Quinn’s office was aware of the abuse of “staff assistant” positions.

Quinn fired 58 people but decided to keep another 103, which drew ire from Republican challenger Rauner during the governor’s race.

The group was among 245 clout-heavy individuals who over 10 years got IODT jobs as staff assistants to do work for which political loyalties should not have been a factor. The jobs weren’t advertised to the public.

Rauner used the IDOT hiring scandal in attacks on Quinn’s ethics during the campaign. His staff at the time called the Democratic incumbent “the king of cronyism and corruption.”

Beyond the layoffs and the abolition of the job classification of staff assistant, Quinn’s administration ousted former IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider and set up a board to oversee hiring within the agency. The administration also imposed a freeze on hiring for jobs that can be filled by a favored candidate.