Pritzker seeks end to hiring oversight as watchdog details more patronage

Pritzker seeks end to hiring oversight as watchdog details more patronage

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker argues his state agencies no longer need a federal minder to ensure hiring is not political. That federal watchdog has four recent examples of why state hiring still needs oversight.

As Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker awaits word on whether he convinced federal appeals justices his employment practices no longer need federal oversight, the lawyer responsible for that oversight disclosed a probe into a state agency hiring what may be unqualified political cronies.

Noelle Brennan, the court-appointed attorney who acts as watchdog for agencies Pritzker controls, disclosed to the courts she’s still looking into the hiring last year of four employees by the Illinois Capital Development Board. All four were hired for the “Contract Specialist III” position at the agency which manages state construction projects. At least two didn’t meet the minimum requirements in the job description.

They specifically lacked “extensive knowledge of the Illinois Procurement Code; Procedural Manual; Construction Contracts Manual and the Emergency Small Purchase Contract Manual,” according to court documents.

Two of the employees were fired from earlier state jobs and have “apparent political connections,” according to Brennan.

Another employee in the group is the son of an unnamed senior official at the board.

The governor’s office admitted to procedural errors hiring the four but reviewed the matter and found no evidence of misconduct. State attorneys claim candidates are selected based on who posts the highest interview scores and no favoritism is involved in hiring.

Ann Spillane, Pritzker’s general counsel, said Brennan never raised any issues regarding political patronage when originally asked about the Capital Development Board hires.

In reference to the two employees previously being fired, lawyers from the Pritzker administration wrote, “As a matter of state law and policy, the state often affords second chances to people, including those with criminal convictions.”

Brennan’s full report on the board’s hiring will be available by the end of January.

Illinois executive branch hiring is monitored as part of the “Shakman Decrees” that since 1972 have ruled much of the state and Chicago-area government hiring. The decrees were agreements to federal oversight of personnel matters in exchange for dismissing lawsuits brought by two Chicago lawyers over rampant political patronage hiring and the common practice of making government employees do political work.

Pritzker has argued agencies under his control no longer need the oversight because the problems have been solved. It is unclear when the appeals court will rule on Pritzker’s bid.

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