Monitor found state hired person on the ‘Blagojevich clout list’

An investigation found two people hired by the Illinois Capital Development Board previously were fired from state jobs. Another was the son of one of the agency’s top officials and didn’t meet the minimum qualifications.

SHARE Monitor found state hired person on the ‘Blagojevich clout list’
The Illinois State Capitol.

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

AP file

The watchdog appointed to investigate potential patronage by state officials determined the Illinois Capital Development Board made several hiring mistakes — including hiring a person on a “Clout List” with close ties to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Noelle Brennan, the lawyer assigned to monitor the state’s compliance with the Shakman consent decree, released her findings in a court filing Wednesday. Her response comes as the state has fought to vacate the decree, which it’s been under since 1972. The Shakman decree banned political considerations in hiring and firing, though there are some exceptions.

Brennan requested in the filing that the state’s motion to vacate the decree be denied, considering the recent findings.

According to the filing, the violations occurred when the Capital Development Board sought to hire several “contract specialists” as the state launched its Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan. That program saw its budget grow from $28 million in 2018 to more than $9 billion in 2021. The plan is set to invest $45 billion into roads, early childhood centers, bridges and other state facilities over the next several years.

These new specialists would help oversee pre-qualification reviews for state vendors, posting construction bids, verifying documents and doing other tasks.

The monitor initially found the hiring process used for these vacant positions violated several personnel code provisions — and, specifically, that the hiring of four people raised concerns given their history, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month.

The continued investigation found that two of those four people had been fired by the state previously. That included the person with ties to Blagojevich. Another person hired was the son of one of the agency’s top officials and did not meet the minimum qualifications for the position.

The monitor had recommended that the hiring of those employees be reversed; the state refused, saying it was reviewing the situation. The employees have since been “certified,” meaning they are now protected under the personnel code and can’t be “fired without a showing of misconduct.”

The filing goes into great detail about how the agency failed to properly expand its candidate pool, favoring some candidates over others — even after being notified a candidate was fired from their previous state position.

“The state claims the [Capital Development Board] sequences were merely paperwork errors. We disagree,” Brennan said in the filing. “The violations were not merely ministerial paperwork problems. Rather, the violations substantively impacted the competitive nature of the selection process and ultimately favored the selected candidates.”

Kamaria Morris, a spokesperson with the Capital Development Board, said the agency is committed to following the required guidelines, and even though there may have been some procedural mistakes, it hasn’t negatively affected their work.

“While we are committed to working consistently to improve our processes, the procedural error did not impact the overall process,” Morris said. “The candidates in question were deemed qualified by the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, were given the highest scores by a panel of three interviewers, and have contributed to CDB and its mission in performing their duties.”

Though Brennan disagrees.

“The State’s characterization of these violations suggests a lack of appreciation for the nature of the violations, the systemic weaknesses they reveal, and ignores the reasons why the State revised its employment practices and processes in the first place,” Brennan said.

Filing not displaying properly? Read it here.

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