The head of the Illinois Department of Transportation has resigned following questions about political hiring at the agency, a move that could save Gov. Pat Quinn further political embarrassment as he seeks a second term this fall.
Out at IDOT is Ann Schneider, who Quinn appointed transportation secretary in 2011. The department came under fire in April after attorney Michael Shakman, who has long crusaded against patronage, asked a federal judge to investigate the agency’s hiring. Shakman argued positions were being “filled with employees based on political considerations rather than qualifications.”
Shakman's allegations focus on an investigation conducted last year by the Better Government Association, a watchdog group that more recently found Schneider's stepdaughter was hired by IDOT in 2006 as a part-time clerical worker but was later promoted to a full time post. At the time, Schneider served as IDOT’s director of finance and administration.
On Monday, Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman declined to answer questions about Schneider's resignation, pointing to a news release in which the governor thanked her for her “years of hard work and dedication.”
Schneider could not be reached for comment Monday. Quinn named Erica Borggren acting secretary of the transportation agency. Borggren has led the Department of Veterans Affairs since 2011.
The BGA contends Quinn continued a scheme started by impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich that improperly classified nonpolitical positions as one that could be filled by political appointees. Shakman alleges that many of these hires later were promoted or transferred to unionized positions in order to make it more difficult to fire them. The attorney argues that the questionable hiring stopped in late 2011 or early 2012 when the state's Office of Executive Inspector General began an investigation.
Quinn has said he learned of accusations of political hiring at IDOT last summer and “immediately ordered” the agency to conduct an audit, saying he has “zero tolerance for anything on hiring that isn't exactly according to the rules.”
Despite his political outsider persona, Quinn is no stranger to patronage. After serving as an organizer for Democrat Dan Walker's successful 1972 campaign for governor, Quinn joined Walker's staff, where his duties included dishing out patronage as a liaison to state lawmakers.
Later, Quinn left the Illinois Industrial Commission after lawmakers launched an investigation into whether Walker had been hiding the payroll costs of governor's office workers on state boards and commissions to make it look like the governor's payroll had dropped.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun