Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration was scolded by a top state watchdog for “serious mismanagement” that allowed seven state employees to hold patronage positions when their duties did not justify the special job titles, according to a report released Monday.
The Republican governor’s office also was reprimanded for providing incomplete information to executive inspector general investigators.
The report resulted in the two-week suspension of a manager and elimination of the positions at issue. A top Rauner aide who had been in charge of the Department of Central Management Services at the time of the improper hiring and employment took responsibility for “a general management failure” at the agency, according to the report. That former CMS director, Michael Hoffman, is now Rauner’s point person on the Legionnaires’ disease crisis at the Quincy veterans home.
The use of exempt positions long has been controversial. In 2014, a state ethics investigator found that then-Gov. Pat Quinn had presided over hundreds of improper hirings of politically connected workers at the Department of Transportation. Then-candidate Rauner made it a campaign issue, calling Quinn a “phony reformer” and vowing that he would work “to root out Pat Quinn’s patronage and corruption.”
The probe focused on positions within the state’s Bureau of Property Management that were given a special classification that made them exempt from rules that are designed to keep politics out of state hiring. Such positions are valuable because they allow the governor to hire people who are aligned politically to develop and carry out policies.
The watchdog found that seven employees who were hired as “regional client managers” were not performing work that would justify their special job descriptions, and that their direct supervisors were unaware of the situation.
The report called it “shocking” that “for years no one at CMS identified this issue, brought it to anyone’s attention, or took any action to fix the problem.” While noting that it “did not find evidence that Governor’s Office staff placed individuals into exempt positions knowing they would not be doing exempt work,” the watchdog said it did find that the governor’s office “did not prioritize this issue and believed it was someone else’s responsibility.”
A deputy director who was supposed to be the direct supervisor to the employees told investigators that he was unfamiliar with their job duties and had never met with most of them. He was suspended for 14 days without pay, and “formally counseled on his responsibilities,” according to a letter the governor’s office sent to the inspector general in response to its report.
Hoffman, took responsibility for the problem. “Had I known about the situation earlier, I would have taken action at that time,” he wrote in a letter to the executive ethics commission.
The governor’s office acknowledged that the workers were improperly employed and said that it had acted quickly to eliminate the positions once it became aware of the problem, according to the report.
The positions were eliminated at the end of 2017, and six of the seven workers have left state government. The seventh was informed that his position will be eliminated once a suitable replacement can be found, the governor’s office said in its letter to the inspector general.
The report highlighted “an underlying issue that requires further attention: a sense from many individuals interviewed, including individuals in key personnel functions, that it is not their responsibility to ensure that State employees are performing the duties in their job descriptions, to revise job descriptions that are inaccurate, or to identify when (an exempt) position is unwarranted or improper,” the letter said.
By: Kim Geiger
Photo Credit: Gov. Bruce Rauner at a news conference Feb. 8, 2018. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
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