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Lawsuit seeks state hiring probe

BY SARA BURNETTAssociated Press

CHICAGO - A Chicago attorney asked a federal judge on Tuesday to order an investigation into hiring under Gov. Pat Quinn, saying there's an "embedded culture of patronage practices" in Illinois government and anyone who improperly got a job should be fired.

Michael Shakman - known for bringing the decades-old court case that led to bans on politically-based hiring in Chicago and Cook County - filed his motion in U.S. District Court in Chicago as part of that ongoing lawsuit.

The filing accuses Quinn of improper hiring and reclassification of employees in the Illinois Department of Transportation. It cites a 2013 report by the Better Government Association, a watchdog group, that concluded hundreds of IDOT jobs may have been wrongly filled based on "clout instead of competence."

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling governing state hiring says that only certain jobs may be filled based on subjective considerations, such as political loyalty or personal connections. The high court indicated politics could be considered only when it directly affects the job, such as that of a high-level policy adviser.

The BGA report and Shakman's lawsuit claim IDOT skirted those rules by reclassifying certain positions so they would be exempt from the state hiring rules and politics could be considered.

Quinn's office referred comment to IDOT Spokesman Guy Tridgell. In an emailed statement, Tridgell said the office launched a comprehensive audit "immediately" after the BGA report.

He said 61 of the "Staff Assistant" positions once deemed by the administration to be exempt from state rules were submitted to the state's personnel agency for review, and the agency determined at least 50 should not be exempt. Tridgell said going forward, those positions will be hired according to state rules that say a person's qualifications take precedence.

"The hiring of Staff Assistants began in 2003 under the previous administration, and was suspended when new information came to light last year," Tridgell said.

He also said that of the roughly 5,200 IDOT employees, about 4,900 are in positions in which political connections cannot be considered.

But Shakman says the Quinn administration is claiming an "inconceivable" number of employees may be hired based on their politics. He says the number is "far greater than justifiable under applicable law."

He wants the judge to appoint a monitor to investigate hiring practices, and he says those improper political hires should lose their jobs.

Shakman's motion also says his lawyers met with attorneys for Quinn on Monday to try to resolve the issue but a resolution could not be reached.

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