SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Gov. Bruce Rauner fired 29 Illinois Department of Transportation employees Thursday who were among hundreds improperly hired based on political connections.
In an announcement in which he labeled it the end of an IDOT political scandal stretching back more than a decade, Rauner said he issued layoff notices to the last of the “staff assistants” who investigations found were hired based on clout instead of merit.
“We have worked for taxpayers to ensure proper hiring at all of our state agencies,” Rauner said in a prepared statement. “This is an additional step to restore citizens’ faith in state government so it works for them and not the political insiders.”
The IDOT staff assistants were told their last day is Sept. 15.
A 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling from Illinois bans most political hiring in state government. But hundreds of people were hired into the IDOT posts starting in 2003 under Democratic Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.
Blagojevich, impeached, removed from office, and imprisoned on federal corruption charges, had other hiring scandals while he was governor from 2003-2009. This one didn’t surface until his successor, Pat Quinn, took office. In fact, the practice increased under Quinn, a review found.
The state’s inspector general found in 2014 that the politically connected hires should have been put into their positions based on merit. The high court ruling, known as “Rutan,” allows consideration of political loyalty in filling sensitive, policymaking positions or those involving confidential information or which require public statements. The inspector general’s investigation determined that IDOT often filled the jobs with politically connected candidates to perform tasks related to those functions, but they ended up doing routine jobs, such as answering phones and mowing lawns, and therefore the posts should have been open to anyone.
The issue became pivotal in the 2014 race for governor, in which Rauner defeated Quinn.
A special master appointed in a lawsuit resulting from the scandal found last summer that instead of determining a need for a worker and conducting a blind hiring process, IDOT identified a favored candidate and manipulated the job to fit. The monitor, Chicago attorney Noelle Brennan, also said in a court filing that the Rauner administration was not fully cooperating with her investigation, which a Rauner spokesman denied.
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