A federal judge on Wednesday ordered a court-appointed monitor to review hiring problems at Gov. Pat Quinn's Department of Transportation, a setback for the Democrat running for re-election largely on how he navigated Illinois away from ethical problems.
The ruling — less than two weeks before the election — followed a motion filed in April by anti-patronage campaigner Michael Shakman, who alleged that a long span of improper hiring based on clout and connections necessitated an outside monitor and further investigation at IDOT. Quinn administration attorneys had argued that neither was necessary because a state inspector general had investigated and the issues already were being addressed.
Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier disagreed, saying the inspector general's work didn't negate the "need for the court to take action." But he didn't grant Shakman's request for a separate probe, explaining the court monitor could sufficiently review why issues occurred and do so transparently.
Quinn's challenger in the Nov. 4 election, Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, immediately jumped on the ruling to say that Quinn "cannot be trusted to clean up state government." Quinn's campaign rejected the criticism.
His government spokesman said IDOT officials would implement the ruling.
"We'll ensure IDOT works closely with the court and continues to follow all rules," said Grant Klinzman, a Quinn spokesman.
Questions over hiring have dogged Quinn's re-election.
In seeking a second full term, he's reminded the public how he cleaned up government during an "ethical crisis" after two consecutive predecessors went to prison. Rauner has tried to undermine those claims, specifically noting the IDOT lawsuit. The gubernatorial matchup is among the most competitive nationwide.
Quinn himself hasn't been accused of wrongdoing, and the inspector general's report found neither Quinn nor his staffers were aware of impropriety.
But Shakman — who successfully pressed for a 1972 court decree which bans patronage hiring and bears his name — said earlier attempts to examine IDOT hiring when Quinn took office in 2009 hadn't been successful despite assurances from the governor that problems would be fixed.
Shakman told reporters that the timing of the ruling, just before the election, "is not for (lack) of trying on our side. We hoped to do this back in 2009."
He said, "There's no question that political hiring, promotions and transfers did occur ... The reason we should care is fairness."
Shakman's motion followed a 2013 Better Government Association report that Quinn and predecessor, now-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich, had hired "staff assistants" without adhering to rules that prohibit political considerations and without offering the jobs to the public. The inspector general's report essentially confirmed the findings. It noted 255 staff assistants were hired, often with political or family connections, but worked other jobs that should've been open to any applicant. The number of those hirings rose after Quinn became governor.
After Quinn's administration received a copy of the inspector general's report, state officials instituted reforms, including eliminating staff assistant positions.
Still, Quinn has had to defend himself repeatedly. Former IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, who resigned in June, said recommendations for hires came from Quinn's office. Quinn has said he personally didn't make any recommendations.
Rauner, a venture capitalist who vows to root out state corruption, has tried to link Quinn to Blagojevich.
"A federal judge just confirmed what we've known all along — Pat Quinn is corrupt and cannot be trusted to clean up state government," Rauner said in a statement.
But Quinn's campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson responded with questions about Rauner's own business record. Quinn's campaign has singled out companies connected to Rauner's former firm that've faced lawsuits, among other things.
"We will certainly not be taking any advice about ethics from the most unethical executive in America, Bruce Rauner," she said in a statement.
In the coming weeks, attorneys will meet to discuss choosing a monitor, which the state will pay for. Once in place, the process could take years.
A monitor appointed in 2009 for Cook County is still in place. Federal oversight put in place in 2005 was lifted for the city of Chicago this year after the court found Chicago largely complies with the Shakman Decree.