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Rauner aides call ex-State Fair chief 'toxic' — he calls them 'hacks'

In this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015 photo, children ride atop of a fire truck during the Twilight Parade at the Illinois State Fair during the Twilight Parade at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

A day after the outgoing Illinois State Fair director blasted Gov. Bruce Rauner for what the director called the forced resignation of his boss, Rauner’s office on Friday accused the fair director of “erratic behavior” and creating “a toxic atmosphere.”

Rauner’s office on Thursday announced the resignations of Department of Agriculture Director Phil Nelson and Illinois State Fair Director Patrick Buchen. No explanation was given for their resignations.

But Buchen said Nelson was forced out, and that he tendered his resignation as a show of solidarity to the man who hired him. Buchen called the behavior of Rauner aides “unprofessional,” saying that Nelson was handed a resignation letter to sign with no explanation given.

Rauner’s office on Friday issued a statement about Buchen, saying he created a “toxic atmosphere,” and exhibited “erratic behavior.” They also released an email exchange between Buchen and Robert Alec Messina, Rauner’s policy adviser for environment and energy.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Buchen is continuing to demonstrate the same type of erratic behavior he exhibited as a state employee,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement. “As the email below shows, Mr. Buchen sometimes had a difficult time appropriately communicating with other state employees and often failed to treat fellow state workers with respect. He damaged morale within the agency and was beginning to create a toxic atmosphere among those who had to work with him.”

At the time the email was sent, Buchen was upset about the grand marshals chosen for the fair’s Twilight Parade. Buchen wanted the owners of the Brandt Agricultural Products in Springfield to be the grand marshals. But two U.S. Navy commanders — favored by Messina — were chosen instead.

In the email dated on July 10, Buchen writes that he seldom gets upset, but was very disappointed in the grand marshals selection.

“You need to understand that when my nose gets bloodied I will break those that bloodied mine. A metaphor of course, but getting mad or upset is unproductive. I get even,” Buchen wrote in the email.

Buchen wrote that their selection did not represent agriculture and that he was most disappointed that his recommendation was denied: “I am here to bring back and promote agriculture for the Fair and the State of Illinois. If that is not the intent of those who made this decision then I need to go elsewhere.”

Buchen told Rauner of his disappointment in the selection, Buchen wrote in the email. He also wrote that he would select an agriculture ambassador without any approval: “Shame on those who denied our request this time, but shame on me if it ever happens again,” Buchen wrote.

In Messina’s responding email, he writes he was saddened to learn from Nelson that he was so upset about the grand marshal selection. He also urged Buchen to communicate with him in the future.

Reached on Friday, Buchen said he expected Rauner’s office to dispute his criticism of both Nelson’s “forced” resignation and the Rauner administration.

“I expected them to throw mud back,” Buchen said Friday. “Speak with my staff and they’ll dispute everything that was said. Talk to the staff that I worked with, all the people in the Agriculture Committee. Talk with my staff. They’ll dispute all of that. They’re going to throw mud back at me because I spoke truthfully about them.”

Buchen said the release of his email to Messina wasn’t surprising.

“They’re just political hacks. They’ve never worked a day in their lives. All they know how to do is sling mud. It honestly doesn’t surprise me a bit.”