Pritzker fighting to keep political hiring reports under wraps

Pritzker fighting to keep political hiring reports under wraps

The lawyers who over 50 years ago started the fight against political patronage in Springfield and Chicago are arguing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration is not ready to lose federal oversight of hiring. Efforts to hide hiring records prove that point, they said.

Gov. J.B. Prizker is in federal court asking to be relieved of federal oversight on hiring, but the attorneys who started the fight against political patronage in 1969 are saying Pritzker’s effort to block access to hiring reports proves it’s too soon to retire the watchdog.

Lawyers Michael Shakman and Paul Lurie together started the fight leading to Chicago-area and state hiring rules and patronage oversight in 1972 known as the Shakman decrees. On Dec. 7 they entered the fight between the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General and a federal hiring monitor. The dispute now centers over whether the inspector general must surrender records showing hiring irregularities from the state’s Hiring and Employment Monitor, or HEM, office.

“A key aspect of the Governor’s motion to vacate the 1972 Decree is the argument that OEIG and HEM are part of the State’s” plan to prevent patronage, Shakman and Lurie stated. “The Special Master’s Reports make clear that OEIG and HEM are not yet providing sufficient oversight and enforcement to confirm substantial compliance or a durable remedy.”

Pritzker’s staff is arguing the federal monitor is reaching beyond the court mandate by seeking records other than those related to the Illinois Department of Transportation. But the oversight was expanded as recently as 2017 to include all state agencies under the governor’s control after hiring abuses were exposed at IDOT. Pritzker, himself, has played the political hiring game: a June report from WBEZ revealed he hired 35 people from Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s clout list.

Pritzker on July 14 argued in federal court that the state achieved the objectives set forth by the Shakman decrees from 1972 and no longer requires a watchdog to prevent patronage hiring. He also claims federal oversight should be much more limited.

Pritzker is arguing oversight can only apply to political coercion of current employees. Edward Feldman, an attorney arguing for the oversight, said the decree is about broad oversight and not just about monitoring insider hiring.

“The broadly-worded prohibition in the Decree of any political manipulation of state employment was necessary then, and is necessary now,” Feldman said.

He also said Pritzker needs to prove there have not been ongoing violations of the decree and have a plan in place to prevent violations.

The Shakman decrees in 1972 were the result of compromises between the parties mandating federal oversight of hiring in Cook County and Springfield to ensure politics was not controlling government jobs. Chicago lawyers Shakman and Lurie started the battle in 1969 by suing the Cook County Democratic Party over the longstanding policy of making public employees do political work.

Despite Pritzker’s claim his executive branch hiring is clean and internal monitoring is preventing politics from ruling hiring or employees’ duties, patronage and cronyism remains a major problem in Illinois, as federal probes have shown.

Madigan was served with a grand jury subpoena after Commonwealth Edison admitted to a scheme to bribe the speaker with over $1.3 million in payments to his political friends to gain the speaker’s favor on legislation worth over $150 million. Prosecutors detailed how Madigan’s office provided names of potential hires ranging from meter readers on up. AT&T, Rush University Medical Center and Walgreens were also served subpoenas seeking information about similar payments and hires intended to curry Madigan’s favor.

Madigan’s patronage does not fall under the scope of Shakman, but Pritzker made his case for ending oversight just three days before Madigan was implicated in the ComEd charges.

Pritzker is asking for trust as too many in Springfield have betrayed the public’s trust.

Pritzker is under federal investigation for avoiding $331,000 in property taxes. Former state lawmakers Terry LinkLuis Arroyo and the late Martin Sandoval, as well as state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, were all indicted on corruption charges.

Over the years, the Shakman decrees have been lifted for other offices. Cook County, the City of Chicago, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Cook County Forest Preserve District have all been released from the federal court oversight agreed to under the decrees.

But the expanded oversight of state executive agencies is only about three years old. And Pritzker’s 35 hires at Madigan’s bidding argue that cronyism and patronage are far from dead when it comes to state jobs in general or Pritzker’s administration in particular.

Despite 48 years of oversight, Illinois government is still not ready to function on its own without a federal minder. Shakman and Lurie had it right over 50 years ago, and they have it correct again.

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