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Legislator wants to ban lame-duck maneuvers at stadium authority

Lame-duck Illinois governors would be prohibited from duplicating the political power play that Pat Quinn used to muscle his former campaign manager into the job of executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, under a crackdown proposed Thursday.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, a freshman who represents the north suburbs, was so offended by the 4-to-3 vote that installed 30-year-old Lou Bertuca in the $160,000-a-year job, she wants to do the legislative equivalent of blocking the plate.

“The executive director of the Illinois Sports Finance Authority is among the highest-paid state employees. A governor who’s leaving office shouldn’t be able to use the position as a cushy landing spot,” Morrison was quoted as saying in a news release.

Morrison’s bill would prohibit the state agency that built and manages U.S. Cellular Field and rebuilt Soldier Field from appointing a new executive director during the 60-day period after an election and before a lame-duck governor leaves office.

It mirrors the state law that already prohibits lame-duck governors from making appointments to most other high-profile, highly paid positions.

“The people of Illinois expect more and deserve more accountability from their elected officials,” Morrison said. “This kind of last-minute patronage is embarrassing for all of us who care about ethical and honest government.”

Earlier this week, the governor’s four appointees on the stadium authority board, three of whom are operating on expired terms, handed Bertuca a two-year contract.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel blasted the lame-duck maneuver and said he has attorneys studying not only whether the appointment can be undone but also whether to shift the balance of power on the seven-member board from the state to the city.

The mayor’s comments were an instant replay of the arguments he made two years ago, when Quinn used a similar maneuver to install deputy state budget director and former TV reporter-turned-Quinn-spokeswoman Kelly Kraft as Bertuca’s predecessor.

“I don’t think it should be played for politics. . . . God forbid something happened financially or in the fiscal management and stewardship. Chicago taxpayers are on the hook,” Emanuel said.

“If you look at the appointments I’ve made [to the stadium authority board], they have . . . a financial background that is essential because they are the thin line protecting Chicago taxpayers. I do not think this should be used in any other way but with the seriousness attached to the responsibility.”

Emanuel stressed that he has “nothing against Lou” Bertuca. But he thinks “political respect” demands that the job be left vacant until a new governor takes over.

“Gov.-elect [Bruce] Rauner will be coming in. He should have the right in time to not only appoint his nominees to the board, but then we would work together with the values I just enumerated” to choose a new executive director, Emanuel said.

Three years ago, Chicago’s share of the state income tax was nearly docked by $1.1 million because the 2 percent hotel tax increase that helped finance the Soldier Field renovation nearly fell short of the 5.5 percent annual growth needed to retire the $400 million debt.

That’s on top of the $5 million-a-year contribution Chicago taxpayers had already made.

Although the city dodged that bullet, Emanuel’s Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott has warned that an “accelerating curve” of bond payments creates “an increased risk that, at some point, we’ll be on the hook. Scott has noted that Wall Street rating agencies have “expressed concern” about the payment schedule.