With reporting by Dave McKinney
SPRINGFIELD-The state’s top ethics watchdog Monday accused a former state lawmaker and congressman from Downstate of circumventing hiring rules and other ethical breaches while serving as a top administrator at the Illinois Department of Transportation through early 2011.
The Executive Ethics Commission released results of a probe by the executive inspector general’s office that singled out former U.S. Rep. David Phelps (D-Ill.) and another former IDOT administrator, Danny Clayton, for breaking a series of agency rules that the commission said warranted their firings.
Phelps, an assistant secretary at IDOT appointed in 2003 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, tendered his resignation to Gov. Pat Quinn in February 2011.
A Democrat from far downstate Harrisburg, Phelps was a two-term congressman from 1999 to 2003 after serving for 14 years in the Illinois House. Phelps’ nephew is state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg).
According to Monday’s report, investigators for the executive inspector general’s office interviewed two IDOT employees involved in hiring who indicated that Phelps continually hinted at who he wanted for certain positions — even those not allowed to be political hires — and had previous relationships with several individuals hired in 2009.
Investigators also accused both Clayton and Phelps of wrongly favoring southern Illinois consulting firm GeoTech Engineering & Testing, Inc. for certain projects over other firms from the central and northern parts of the state. Since 2006, GeoTech has won contracts in five of IDOT’s nine districts.
After telling investigators in a 2010 interview that his daily duties consist mostly of meeting with “lots of people,” Phelps admitted he always communicates with IDOT employees in charge of ranking prospective consulting firms after Phelps meets with the consultants, the report said.
David Phelps’ lawyer, Robert Uhe, said that Phelps cooperated fully with the investigation, was not accused of breaking any state ethics laws nor did he try to profit from his alleged actions.
“The investigation resulted in no formal complaints being filed by the OEIG against Mr. Pehlps, and therefore there has been no evidentiary hearing on the allegations described in the final report against Mr. Phelps,” Uhe said in a letter that accompanied the report. “Accordingly, Mr. Phelps has not had the opportunity to challenge or rebut the allegations that were made against him by anonymous employees and the OEIG.
“The investigation in this case is indicated to be ‘closed,’ and it is our understanding that no additional actions are contemplated to be taken by the OEIG with respect to Mr. Phelps,” Uhe said.
The investigation also shows Clayton may have overstated the number of days he worked in 2008 and 2009 that resulted in more than $10,000 of wages. And after several interviews with IDOT employees, investigators discovered Clayton had been allegedly trying to have his son hired for many years and had been removing requirements from IDOT job postings to improve his son’s prospects.
Finally, Clayton’s supervisor, Mary Lamie, along with IDOT employee Carrie Nelsen – who both work in IDOT’s Carbondale offices – are accused of intentionally soliciting and accepting prohibited gifts including a number of gift cards and St. Louis Cardinals baseball tickets from GeoTech vice president Mark Workman.