SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged Monday to continue rooting out improper patronage hiring at the same time his lawyers were attempting to block a federal court monitor's expanded review of all state administration jobs.
The Republican again trumpeted getting rid of the clout-packed "staff assistant" position at the Illinois Department of Transportation — the remaining 29 were fired last week — as a "small step in the right direction."
Yet, Rauner says a review of all state positions by a special master — appointed in 2014 to investigate the scandal, in which the staff assistant posts were improperly handed out as political favors — is premature, too costly and duplicative of the work his administration wants the Office of the Executive Inspector General to do.
"We want to expand the work of the executive inspector general, continuing to look in every department for positions that should not be in existence and for the existence of people who were hired ... for patronage or political reasons, not to provide high-quality government services," he said.
In a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Rauner's administration argues that the state has already paid $800,000 to the special master; expanding her workload would come at a much steeper cost.
Nonetheless, he told reporters Monday he supports a $600,000 expansion of that office and its newly created Hiring and Employment Monitoring unit. The unit has been established within the existing short-term budget, said David Morrison, spokesman for Inspector General Maggie Hickey, who was nominated by Rauner and affirmed by the Senate, but acts independently of the governor.
The venture capitalist took office in January 2015, just months after the executive inspector general concluded in a review that for more than a decade, Democratic Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn hired hundreds of people for ostensibly sensitive, policymaking IDOT positions that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled may be filled based on political loyalty. Those people ended up answering phones and mowing grass, duties the high court ruled should be doled out strictly on merit.
It prompted Michael Shakman, a Chicago-based anti-patronage activist who won a 1972 federal court decree governing political hiring in Cook County, to persuade the judge in that case to appoint a special master to review IDOT. In August, Shakman asked for expanded power to develop a statewide, comprehensive list of jobs for which politics may be considered.
The Rauner administration countered Monday that a statewide special master expansion is premature, would unnecessarily complicate the government's attempts to reform hiring, would cost the cash-strapped state too much and duplicate the Hiring and Employment Monitoring unit's work.
If the court broadens special master Noelle Brennan's purview beyond IDOT, her payment would "increase exponentially," the court filing said, "from one agency and 5,000 employees to 51 agencies and 50,000 employees."
Steve Brown, spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago, said House Democrats are willing to discuss a deeper review.
"We're always worried about people not doing a day's work for a day's pay," he said.
Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor .