Thursday, May 07, 2009

3,000 jobs at stake

By Bethany Jaeger, with Jamey Dunn contributing
House Speaker Michael Madigan wants the “fumigation” of state government to move faster than it has since Gov. Pat Quinn replaced impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The speaker introduced legislation that would force Quinn to assess about 3,000 high-level state employees that had been hired or appointed by Blagojevich and his predecessor, imprisoned Gov. George Ryan.

“I’m not satisfied with the pace of change,” Madigan said during a Statehouse news conference today. “I think that we have to move faster, we have to move more dramatically.”

The concept has support from Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton, according to his spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon.

In fact, Quinn said he thinks it’s a good idea and that he expects it to pass. “It actually helps the process. I think it helps us to take boards and commissions where individuals are appointed to set terms that may not expire for years to come and give me an opportunity to evaluate those people who are appointed either by Rod Blagojevich or George Ryan, both of whom are under clouds of doubt.”

Quinn would have 60 days to reevaluate whether he wanted to retain state agency directors, their top assistants or board members or commissioners appointed by Ryan or Blagojevich. Quinn would be able to reappoint people he thought were doing a good job, but they would have to win Senate confirmation again. Employees also would be able to reapply for their positions.

Madigan said the action is not intended to impugn the integrity or the work habits of people who are doing a good job, but it is intended to be “rather dramatic.” “It clearly will be the type of fumigation of the Ryan and Blagojevich appointments that I think the people of the state of Illinois are demanding so that we can move away from the scandals of the past.”

About 90 of about 276 of the state’s boards and commissions would be affected. They include everything from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to universities' boards of trustees. Those not affected would include state employees who cannot be fired because of their political affiliations (based on the so-called Rutan provision from a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision).

A high-profile position affected by the proposal would include Ginger Ostro, director of the governor’s budget office under Blagojevich and, now, Quinn. Someone not affected would be Jack Lavin, Blagojevich’s director of the economic development agency, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Quinn appointed Lavin his chief operating officer, responsible for coordinating the state’s capture and use of federal stimulus funds. Also not affected by the legislation for now would be John Filan, Blagojevich’s former budget director and former chief operating officer. He currently serves as executive director the Illinois Finance Authority, created in 2004 by Blagojevich.

Although Filan would not be affected by his bill, Madigan said, “I’d like to come back at a later date on that.”

The bill would potentially fire two senior staff members of the Health Facilities Planning Board, Jeffrey Mark and David Carvalho, whom we wrote about earlier this week. Democrats defended the two employees, while House Minority Leader Tom Cross urged the need to fire them because they served before, during and after Blagojevich insiders corrupted the board. Cross tried in vain yesterday to advance his own legislation that would fire them.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno added, “It makes sense to take a look at people that were here during the times when we have had unprecedented problems.”

Madigan said he intends to advance the legislation next week. Lawmakers return May 12, which starts the end-of-session rush to approve major budget and ethics initiatives by May 31.

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