Did CSUemployee do political work?

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Illinois Rep. Monique Davis speaks along with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Science to highlight legislation that allows students in urban areas more access to agricultural education in Chicago, Illinois, Monday, February, 6, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Chicago State University has launched an internal investigation into an employee who allegedly performed political work – off-site and during school hours – for a state legislator who helps provide taxpayer funding for the college.

The investigation followed an inquiry by the Better Government Association.

“As a result of your inquiries, we have launched a full investigation,” university spokeswoman Deborah Douglas told the BGA. “The university cannot give specifics on this investigation, as it is a personnel matter.”

But this much is known: The probe centers on Rory Perry, a $36,228-a-year employee with CSU’s Student Financial Assistance Outreach Center and a campaign worker for state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago).

In December, Perry filed an objection to the nominating petitions of Preston Brown Jr., who is running against Davis in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Nominating petitions are supposed to include signatures of registered voters, and are required for candidates to get on the ballot. It’s common for rivals to comb through signatures looking for irregularities that can knock an opponent out of the race.

As part of that process, Perry and fellow outreach center staffer Roberta Coleman visited the offices of the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago on three days – Dec. 20, 21 and 22 – to inspect Brown’s petitions, according to sign-in sheets obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show that: on Dec. 20, Perry and Coleman signed in at 8:12 a.m.; on Dec. 21, they signed in at 8:37 a.m. and signed out at 5:41 p.m.; and on Dec. 22, they signed in at 8:47 a.m. It’s not clear why they signed out just one day.

Perry also signed a staff sign-in sheet for the outreach center indicating he was at work those same three days, CSU records show.

Perry signed the outreach center’s staff sign-in sheet for the workweek starting Monday, Dec. 19. That document indicates Perry worked from 9:15 a.m. to 4:55 p.m. on Dec. 20, from 9:07 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 21 and from 9:10 a.m. to 4:58 p.m. on Dec. 22.

Coleman did not complete or put her name on the sign-in sheet for the outreach center for any day that week. She told the BGA that Perry asked her to join him at the board of elections. “We were just examining the signatures to make sure that they were legitimate,” Coleman said.

“The college was closed, and we were on vacation. And I assume that we’re able to do what we want to do when we’re on vacation,” said Coleman, who directed further questions to her boss, Dozier Thomas, the outreach center’s director of operations.

Thomas also said that the outreach center was closed for the holidays on the days that Perry and Coleman were inspecting Brown’s petitions at the board of elections. When asked why Perry and several other employees signed in during a week when the office was closed, Thomas said outreach center employees work around the clock, even on off days.

“I assure you that if they’re doing [political work], they’re doing it on their own time,” Thomas said.

Rep. Davis did not respond directly to calls, and Perry declined to comment.

Davis, a 25-year legislator, has deep ties to the outreach center, which helps individuals in their search for loans, grants and scholarships to attend college. The outreach center is located at an off-campus facility at 9601 S. Cottage Grove, which is known as “The Monique D. Davis Harriet Tubman Cyberspace Center.”

Douglas said that Davis has directed state money to the outreach center through “member initiatives.” Every state lawmaker has the ability to direct state dollars to various efforts through member appropriations, Douglas said, adding that Davis is “exercising her privilege.”

Meanwhile, Brown narrowly survived Perry’s petition challenge and remains on the ballot. Asked about the BGA’s findings, he said it’s “despicable” for Davis to use political workers who earn a living at a taxpayer-supported institution. “It’s the very reason why we need honesty in Illinois government, and she is not the person providing it,” Brown said.

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