AP Exclusive: State job crafted after referral

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — During hearings last summer into a scandal at Chicago’s Metra transit agency, a former executive claimed he was fired after resisting a recommendation by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to hike the pay of a Metra employee who had raised campaign money for the powerful lawmaker.

Now, after being recommended by Madigan again, that employee holds a state supervisor’s job that was crafted only after he interviewed for it, resembles the duties of his boss, and currently has no one to supervise, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The records show the state’s top civil service regulator noted the duplication of duties in initially opposing an exemption for the job from rules seeking to keep politics out of hiring decisions. When the exemption was approved, Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration was able to hire Patrick Ward without considering anyone else for the $70,000 job, which ultimately was approved by the Democrat’s chief of staff.

It’s not uncommon for elected officials to put in a good word for someone they believe deserves an Illinois government job. But Ward’s hiring raises questions about the continuing role of “clout” in state government hiring decisions. Quinn and other state leaders have boasted about cleaning up the state’s practices following controversies that landed his two predecessors, Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, in prison.

CMS officials deny that Ward received special consideration. They noted the labor relations officer worked 25 years in the city of Chicago’s personnel department and has a master’s degree.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown confirmed the speaker “passed along” Ward’s resume to state officials.

“He has an outstanding work record with everything he’s done in his career,” Brown said. “Beyond that, you’d have to talk to Pat Ward.”

Ward, contacted at his Chicago office, referred all questions to the CMS media office.

Ward first came to public attention in July, when lawmakers were scrutinizing a decision by the Chicago-area Metra commuter rail line board to award a $718,000 severance agreement to former CEO Alex Clifford. Critics called the award a waste of taxpayer funds; some called it hush money.

Clifford claimed, among other things, that he lost favor with board members when he rebuffed Madigan’s 2012 written recommendation that Ward get a raise for additional duties. Madigan said Ward’s supervisor also supported a raise, but the speaker withdrew the request when Clifford resisted and later asked the state’s Legislative Ethics Commission to look into the matter, assuring that he had done nothing wrong.

State elections records show that during the past 15 years, Ward has contributed nearly $12,000 to either Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization or to his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Ward interviewed Jan. 30 for a job with CMS — he was the only candidate — but the agency did not sign off on a job description for the redefined job he ultimately filled until Feb. 26. Quinn’s then-chief of staff, Jack Lavin, approved creating the job — assistant deputy director for labor relations — and hiring Ward for it on April 26. He started May 16.

Ward got a substantial raise through his new job at CMS, which is the state’s personnel agency and negotiates labor-union agreements for the administration. His current $70,000 salary is 23 percent more than he made at Metra, a bump that required an exception from a limit on incoming state workers’ salary increases to 5 percent over past paychecks, regardless of where the job was.

CMS officials emphasized that Ward is making $18,000 less than a predecessor who had fewer responsibilities. And they said his salary is in line with peers; the average salary of nine other state employees doing similar work is $76,300.

An organization chart obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in August showed that Ward’s position supervises two other labor-relations posts. But one position was vacated by Robb Craddock, who is now Ward’s boss at the agency. The other belonged to the northern Illinois labor relations officer, Winnebago County-based John Terranova, whom CMS said Ward was replacing.

The reason the two jobs Ward is supposed to supervise haven’t been filled is simple: the state’s tight budget, CMS spokesman Mike Claffey said.

As for the irregular path of the hiring process, Claffey said it’s not unusual that it would take weeks for permission for a new job description to wend its way through the system.

Claffey said the job had to be redefined because CMS was adding responsibilities and moving it from Rockford to Chicago, where much of its workload is. He said it needed to be exempt from hiring rules so the administration could tap someone it trusted to deal with confidential and sensitive labor negotiations and employee grievances.

So CMS declared the job exempt from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling about political hiring and sought Civil Service Commission approval to exempt it from guidelines of the personnel code, too — a move that eliminates the need for a candidate to pass a graded exam and be judged against other candidates.

But before making a recommendation on the exemption, commission Executive Director Dan Stralka was troubled that the job description sounded too similar to Ward’s superior, deputy director for labor relations Craddock, who is also in a “double-exempt” post.

CMS said Ward’s job would have authority independent of his boss, and promised in March to update Craddock’s job description to show changed responsibilities. As of last week, seven months later, Stralka hadn’t seen an updated document.


Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor