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State official's hiring smells bad

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Illinois state government has a bad reputation for cronyism and “pay-to-play” politics.

Even nationally known comedians such as Jay Leno and David Letterman made jokes about our state during the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who further embarrassed himself by making the rounds of the talk shows before he took his act to federal prison.

And many Americans know Blagojevich was far from the first Illinois governor to wind up behind bars. In fact, his immediate predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, still was serving time when Blagojevich got sent up the river.

Optimists might think the investigations that put two governors in prison would deter other Illinois politicians from similar antics. But the state’s political culture never seems to change.

The latest brouhaha came to light thanks to an exclusive report from The Associated Press, and it involves Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, one of the most powerful Democrats in the state.

It all started last summer when a former executive of Chicago’s Metra transit agency claimed he had been fired because he resisted a recommendation from Madigan to give a pay raise to a Metra employee who had raised campaign cash for the House speaker.

But did the negative publicity deter Madigan? Apparently not. Documents obtained by the AP show that Madigan again gave a recommendation for the former Metra employee, Patrick Ward, when he was applying for a job with the state’s Department of Central Management Services. No surprise, Ward got the job – a supervisory position that the AP investigation shows was created only after he interviewed for it, and in which he has no employees to supervise. Furthermore, the job seemingly duplicates the duties of Ward’s boss.

Records show the state’s top civil service regulator pointed out that duplication of duties while initially opposing an exemption for the job from rules intended to keep politics out of state hiring decisions. But when the exemption was approved, the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn was able to hire Ward without even considering anyone else for the job, which pays $70,000 a year. Quinn’s chief of staff ultimately approved Ward’s hiring.

As usual, those involved deny Ward got special treatment. A spokesman for Madigan said the speaker merely “passed along” Ward’s resume to state officials.

Here’s something else that was passed along – cash from Ward to Madigan and his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan. State elections records show that during the past 15 years, Ward has contributed nearly $12,000 to either Michael Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization or to Lisa Madigan.

Sorry, fellow Illinoisans, it appears the joke continues to be on us.

The (Alton) Telegraph

And by the way, Ward’s current $70,000 salary is 23 percent more than he made at Metra, a pay raise that required an exception from a limit on incoming state workers’ salary increases to 5 percent over past paychecks, regardless of where the job was.

It’s the same old story in Illinois politics; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Campaign contributors get jobs created for them, even if they appear unnecessary, and rules on state hiring and pay raises don’t seem to apply to them. Meanwhile, the state’s spending, budget deficits and pension debt continue to spiral out of control.

Sorry, fellow Illinoisans, it appears the joke continues to be on us.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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