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Our View: Fumigation must be an ongoing task

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 8:53 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 9:04 p.m. CST

More than five years ago, when Illinois was embroiled in the Gov. Rod Blagojevich impeachment process, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn boiled his solution to the corruption scandal down to one word: fumigate.

“We have to fumigate state government,” Quinn told a Chicago civic luncheon in late 2008.

“We need to fumigate state government,” Quinn told reporters on a different occasion.

And, after Blagojevich was booted and Quinn took office in late January 2009, the word popped up again.

“We’re going to start to fumigate state government from top to bottom to make sure it has no corruption,” Quinn said at a Capitol news conference.

The dictionary says that fumigate means to apply the fumes of certain chemicals to an area to disinfect it or to rid it of vermin. You know – as in how the pest-control man walks the hallways, rooms and exteriors of a building, spraying to kill the bugs.

The word came to mind as more details broke about political hiring in the Quinn administration, specifically the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Office of the Executive Inspector General issued an investigative report last week stating that anti-patronage hiring rules were circumvented at IDOT over the past decade. In all, 255 people were improperly hired to mid-level “staff assistant” positions.

And the report stated the process accelerated in 2010 and 2011 – after Quinn took office.

Any administration is allowed to hire political cronies when jobs involve policymaking or confidential information. But the jobs filled at IDOT were reclassified to make them appear to be exempt from normal hiring rules, even though the duties for some jobs involved only mowing lawns and answering phones.

Quinn may be off the hook, because the report stated no evidence was found that he knew of the hiring shenanigans. IDOT’s acting secretary, Erica Borggren, announced the layoff of 58 remaining workers hired as staff assistants, and that the job title would be discontinued.

But IDOT’s former secretary, Ann Schneider, who resigned in June, said the “vast majority” of candidates that IDOT hired were recommended by Quinn’s office, and she felt pressured to hire them.

That’s a natural reaction. How many subordinates, when asked by the boss to take a particular action, say no?

Quinn, of course, is up for election in November. His Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner, leaped at the opportunity to criticize his Democratic opponent.

Quinn and his staff should simply stop recommending candidates for jobs at IDOT or anywhere else in state government.

That would relieve the pressure on various departments to hire certain people because the governor recommended them. Merit alone should be the deciding factor.

Perhaps Quinn could have avoided the whole IDOT mess if he had done a better job “fumigating” state government five years ago.

He also should learn a lesson from the pest-control man. You can’t fumigate just once and then forget it. You’ve got to spray on a regular basis to keep those annoying bugs from coming back.

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