Monday, August 23, 2010

Quinn takes hits on exit of top staff member

By Jamey Dunn

State Sen. Bill Brady, the Republican candidate for governor, took a shot today at Gov. Pat Quinn over the exit of one of his top staff members.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Quinn’s chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, resigned after the newspaper posed questions about Stermer sending campaign related emails from his government email account. UPDATE: Quinn is scheduled to name a new chief of staff tomorrow afternoon.

It is illegal for public employees in Illinois to handle political tasks on the job or use state resources for campaigning.

Stermer, the former president of the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children, said in a written statement: “Last year, I inadvertently used my state email account to send three emails that the Office of Executive Inspector General (OEIG) later found to be prohibited under the state's Ethics Act. While my intention was not to do anything wrong, I recognized that a mistake was made and quickly disclosed this information to the Governor's Ethics Officer -- a former Assistant U.S. Attorney -- who recommended that I provide the information to the OEIG for appropriate investigation. I voluntarily provided the information to the OEIG for investigation, and made it clear that I was prepared to accept the consequences for my mistakes.”

According to the Sun-Times, the governor removed Inspector General James Wright on August 13, the same day he was briefed on a report from Wright recommending that Attorney General Lisa Madigan file a complaint against Stermer before the state Executive Ethics Commission.

Brady responded with a statement today. “This is yet another stunning report involving the administration of Governor Pat Quinn. Today’s revelation suggests that on the very day Pat Quinn was confronted with evidence by the Inspector General of an ethics violation, Pat Quinn put his political interests before citizens yet again and fired the Inspector General himself.

But the Quinn administration claims the report and the replacement of Wright, who was appointed by Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, were not linked. “Ricardo Meza was appointed by Governor Quinn to head the Office of the Executive Inspector General on August 15, 2010 after a lengthy search process, which began in the Summer of 2009. Ricardo Meza replaced an Inspector General appointed by the previous administration whose term expired in 2008. The replacement was not in response to this or any other specific OEIG report, and these events are in no way connected,” a statement from the governor’s office said.

Kent Redfield,an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit campaign contribution database connected to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said it would be more useful to Brady’s campaign to frame it as an issue with Quinn’s managerial skills than his ethics. “It’s much easier to make the case that Quinn is incompetent [than corrupt.] … That Quinn’s a nice person but he isn’t up to the job is an easier sell.”

Redfield said Stermer’s offense seemed “minor,” and he was surprised that Quinn thought they warranted a resignation. However, he said: “In this day in age, because everybody believes that everybody is corrupt, you have to bend over backwards not to create this situation.”

Stermer’s departure, along with the losses of other key staff members, might make voters consider whether Quinn’s employees have confidence in their boss’ ability to win the general election, Redfield said. “It certainly is curious, and it is just one more thing that the governor doesn’t need at this point. … At some point, people are going to ask whether this is a rats-deserting-the-sinking-ship sort of thing.”

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