SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration reclassified thousands of state jobs so an applicant's political loyalty and connections may no longer be considered during the hiring process, according to a former administration official.
Joe Hartzler, who was a special counsel to Rauner, told The State Journal-Register that the administration likely made changes to 2,500 positions that were once exempt from anti-patronage protections. He called it "a radical change."
The U.S. Supreme Court's 1990 Rutan decision says most hiring, firing and other personnel decisions in government jobs should be based on merit, not political affiliations. But exemptions were created for some for some policy-making positions or for employees who speak publicly for the executive.
Hartzler said reclassifying jobs means that an administration can no longer saddle the succeeding administration with its political hires.
"One governor could appoint people into positions, they would have job protections and the next governor couldn't get rid of them," Hartzler said.
"We drew a very bright line between people who could be appointed with political considerations versus those people who are, let's just call them protected employees."
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He said there are likely less than 1,500 exempt jobs remaining.
The changes came after the executive inspector general found questionable hiring practices at the Illinois Department of Transportation under former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn. People with political connections were appointed into "staff assistant" positions that were exempt from the typical hiring rules. Some of the staff assistants went on to do work that should have been free from patronage considerations — jobs such as mowing grass or answering phones.
A federal judge appointed a Chicago attorney in 2014 to investigate the hiring practices. Hartzler said the investigation found the problem went beyond the Transportation Department and was present throughout the whole state hiring system.
Hartzler said Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who defeated Rauner last fall and took office this month, has been made aware of the changes and is supportive.
Pritzker's office didn't immediately respond to the newspaper's request for comment.