The man whose actions have again brought federal oversight to governmental hiring in Illinois says his actions aren’t election-year politics, just good government.
For years, Chicago attorney Michael Shakman has kept an eye on the Illinois Department of Transportation, which he says was filling jobs based on political considerations.
Despite objections from the Quinn administration, a federal magistrate on Wednesday ordered a monitor to oversee hiring at IDOT.
Shakman said the true scope of patronage at IDOT and elsewhere isn’t fully known, and it probably will take a federally court-appointed monitor months to uncover. Revelations — if any — are likely to come long after Election Day.
However, Shakman said patronage in state government has existed for several administrations and should be viewed as separate from the coming election.
Critics alleged hundreds of hires were politically based during Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration, while there have allegedly been roughly 500 such hires under current Gov. Pat Quinn.
While exact numbers aren’t known, Shakman said political hiring has been used for a “significant number,” employees and it will be part of the special monitor’s duties to determine how many.
“This is a basic problem…. for several administrations,” he said. “It shouldn’t be viewed as a partisan issue.”
In addition to being unfair to qualified job applicants, Shakman said political hires are rarely efficient at their jobs, and having them on the payroll is often a waste of tax dollars.
The move to appoint a special monitor comes after years of crusading on Shakman’s part. He initially asked for a federal hiring monitor to oversee IDOT in 2009 — a request that Quinn opposed.
The request gained momentum again last year when a Better Government Association report revealed evidence of political hiring at IDOT.
In addition, a three-year Office of the Executive Inspector General investigation published this year also concluded hiring violations have been made by IDOT since 2003.
“This has been a long-term problem … particularly at IDOT,” Shakman said. “The existing procedures aren’t working.”
Shakman is a longtime participant in the fight against patronage. His court battles against the Cook County Democratic machine began in the late 1960s and yielded the so-called Shakman decrees, which are credited with greatly diminishing the scope of political hiring.
Greg Bishop is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.