Longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan was a “prominent participant” in patronage hiring at Metra dating back 30 years, recommending dozens of people for jobs, a new report has found.
Madigan had the power to recommend individuals for positions at Metra but “he in effect decided they were hired,” said the report written in part by former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
“While there is nothing inherently improper (much less illegal) about a person recommending someone else for a job or promotion, there is something systemically wrong when such references on behalf of politically connected individuals seem to dominate and control the process to the detriment of better qualified candidates,” the report said.
The findings were part of a 94-page analysis of the transit system by the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn following the scandal that rocked Metra last summer.
After a seven-month study, the panel recommended abolishing the Regional Transportation Authority as well as the boards of the CTA, Metra and Pace. It also urged creation of a new superagency to oversee the six-county region’s mass transit.
Fitzgerald, who helped prosecute governmental corruption while U.S. Attorney, served on the 15-member task force and helped draft the report’s recommendations on ethics. Among other conclusions, the report urged that transit board members serve without compensation and that an independent panel vet appointees.
In a section headed “The Patronage Files,” the report said records uncovered at Metra reflected political hiring at the agency from 1983 to 1991. The records “came to light” after the task force was appointed, the report said.
Metra said Tuesday that one of its employees discovered the records in Metra's labor relations office and that the commuter rail agency quickly and voluntarily turned them over to Fitzgerald and the task force. The files included three boxes holding more than 800 three-by-five inch index cards relating to persons referred for jobs, promotions or raises by various public officials or persons influential with political parties.
Although Madigan was prominent in this patronage process, recommendations came from a number of individuals, including members of the boards of Metra and CTA as well as from officials in Cook County, the legislature and others, the report said.
The report only named Madigan and former Metra board member Donald Udstuen. It noted that the speaker's alleged efforts to influence personnel actions at Metra in 2012 led to the task force’s creation.
In a blistering April 3, 2013 memo to Metra's board, ousted Metra CEO Alex Clifford blamed his downfall partly on his refusal to acquiesce to Madigan's patronage requests to give a raise to one Metra worker, promote another and hire a third person. Madigan said he did nothing inappropriate.
Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, said Tuesday that the speaker had not yet read the task force's report.
Brown, however, questioned how the group could have concluded that Madigan was involved in patronage activities based on documents 30 years old, which the task force members had not publicly discussed. Asked if Madigan ever referred people to Metra for hiring, Brown said he had “no idea.”
The General Assembly's Ethics Commission investigated Clifford's allegations against Madigan and other legislators. The state's executive inspector general is also investigating them.
The files show approximately 26 individuals were recommended by Madigan along with an unnamed private attorney, the report said.
Madigan, 72, has served in the House since 1971, representing a South Side district. He has been speaker since 1983, with the exception of two years.
One candidate he recommended — and noted as a “high priority” — was apparently considered even though his phone had been disconnected and Metra had to send a letter to his address asking him to contact the agency. Other recommendations included a cover letter with a list of individuals for five summer jobs at Metra’s Blue Island rail yard, the report said.
“These referrals and hiring and promotion decisions need to be viewed in light of the law generally prohibiting political hires for the transportation agencies involved,” the report said.
“When candidates were recommended by politically connected people, those candidates were at times hired or promoted or provided raises and at times not,” the report said. “But in a number of cases it appears that recommendations from particular officials carried greater weight and caused candidates to obtain jobs, raises or promotions.”
Another “prominent participant” in the patronage process was Udstuen, who was convicted of taking bribes relating to his role at Metra from 1985 to 2002, the report said. One person Udstuen recommended demonstrated the “corrosive effect of patronage,” the report said. He was hired even though he acted inappropriately during his interview, including wearing a hat with an obscenity written on it, the report said.
Fitzgerald did not return calls for comment. His office said he preferred that the task force co-chairs speak for the report.
The task force also raised ethical concerns about other issues that have occurred in recent years at Metra and at the RTA. In addition to the Utstuen scandal, the report cited the May 2010 suicide of former executive director Phil Pagano, who was under investigation for misappropriating $475,000.
Also mentioned was the RTA’s hiring in February 2012 of Madigan’s son-in-law, Jordan Matyas, as lobbyist, and later promotion to chief of staff.
The RTA had no comment Tuesday, but the report noted that the agency has denied the hiring had anything to do with Matyas’ connection to Madigan.
Nevertheless, the report said, it was “understandable” that the hiring created a public perception that “damages the agency’s credibility as a solution to the problem of patronage.”