Pritzker renews push to end federal oversight of state hiring

Pritzker renews push to end federal oversight of state hiring

The federal court system has been watching Illinois for patronage hiring since 1972. There’s little evidence the problem is fixed.

Gov. J.B. Prizker is again pushing to lift court-ordered federal oversight of Illinois state government hiring in the executive branch, claiming it is no longer needed.

In a recent court filing, Pritzker is arguing the state has 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.

Shakman oversight was expanded as recently as 2017 to include all state agencies under the governor’s control after hiring abuses were exposed in the Illinois Department of Transportation. Pritzker, himself, has played the political hiring game as a report showed this year: he hired 35 people from Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s clout list.

In 1972, a court ruling mandated federal oversight of hiring in Cook County and Springfield to ensure politics was not controlling government jobs. The orders are known collectively as the Shakman decrees, named after Chicago lawyer Michael Shakman who sued the Cook County Democratic Party in 1969 over the longstanding policy of making public employees do its 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 related to a federal investigation. 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. Prosecutors detailed how Madigan’s office provided names of potential hires ranging from meter readers on up. AT&T was also served a subpoena 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 Link, Luis Arroyo and Martin Sandoval, as well as state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, have all been indicted on corruption charges. And then there’s Madigan.

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 oversight of state 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.

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