By Jamey Dunn
Amid continuing controversy over the circumstances surrounding the resignation of his former top aide, Gov. Pat Quinn named a new chief of staff today.
Quinn tapped Michelle Saddler, who has been secretary of the Department of Human Services since last October. Prior to then, she served as director of policy for Quinn. Grace Hou, who was the Department of Human Services assistant secretary for programs, now serves as the agency’s acting secretary. UPDATE: Hou declined the appointment for "personal reasons" according to a written statement from the agency. She remains assistant secretary for programs. Quinn has since named Grace Hong Duffin, former DHS chief of staff, as acting secretary.
Quinn's former chief of staff Jerry Stermer resigned unexpectedly on Sunday. He said he was stepping down after the Chicago Sun-Times reported on an internal probe into campaign-related emails sent from Stermer's state account. Stermer sent three such emails and later reported himself to Quinn’s inspector general, James Wright. Wright issued a report recommending that Attorney General Lisa Madigan file a complaint against Stermer before the state Executive Ethics Commission. A member of Quinn’s staff notified Wright that he was being replaced on the same day he turned in his report.
At the Chicago news conference held to announce Saddler’s appointment, Quinn adamantly denied allegations that there was a connection between the report and the decision to replace Wright. “It is false. It has not a shred of truth.” He said Wright was given notice in the morning on August 13, and that he was not aware that Wright’s report had been issued until that evening.
Quinn said his office had been looking for a new inspector general since March and had interviewed Wright’s replacement, Ricardo Meza, in late June.
“I don’t think [Wright] labored under any assumption that I was going to reappoint him. I, for more than a year, was looking for a replacement,” Quinn said. Wright told the Sun-Times that he did not know Quinn’s reasons for replacing him.
Quinn said he does not interfere with his inspector general’s work and had only met Wright once. “I keep total distance from that office. … I do not interfere in any way shape or form with the office of inspector general. Never have. Never will.”
Stermer likely faced a suspension for his relatively minor ethics violations, according to Quinn. But instead, he opted to resign after the report was leaked to the press. “I feel very badly for Jerry because he is an exemplary public servant. He made a couple of mistakes. … He was willing to take whatever discipline would be administered.”
Quinn called Saddler a “committed idealistic person” who is “hard working” and “honest.”
“I am me,” said Saddler, who also worked for Quinn when he was state treasurer. “I bring all the strengths and shortcomings that a person might have, but I work hard. I believe in honesty all the way. And I believe in partnership. So I look forward to a continued partnership with our legislators, our employees, our providers and our advocacy groups. And of course with all our state agencies and Gov. Quinn.”