Madigan says candidate lists are public; Blagojevich doesn't care
Springfield, Ill. – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has declared that names and qualifications of unsuccessful state job candidates should be disclosed, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration won't comply.
Madigan's office says a state administrative rule clearly makes so-called "eligible lists" public record. The Associated Press was denied copies of lists for two jobs given to people with political connections in 2003.
Blagojevich's hiring practices are under federal investigation. His Department of Central Management Services says it is bound by a 1984 federal appeals court ruling that releasing applicants' names could "embarrass or harm" them.
But it released an eligible list for a different state job to the AP last fall.
Agencies under the Democratic governor hired the son-in-law of a Democratic congressman to be a pilot and the son of a St. Clair County Blagojevich campaign contributor as a prison business administrator. The information on other job applicants could shed light on whether more qualified people were passed over.
Central Management Services argues the information is private, although it released the eligible list for a different state job last fall. CMS says it is bound by a 1984 federal appeals court decision from Virginia that barred disclosing job applicants' names under the federal FOIA.
Madigan's public access counselor, Terry Mutchler, wrote to Blagojevich attorney William Quinlan and CMS Director Paul Campbell last week. She pointed out that the state's administrative code, which has the force of law and prevails over any FOIA exemptions, requires disclosure of the information.
"CMS is obligated by its own rules to provide public access to such lists," Mutchler wrote in the letter, which is advisory and doesn't compel cooperation. "CMS has recognized this requirement by providing an eligible list... in response to an earlier FOIA request."
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald revealed in June that his office is investigating allegations of hiring fraud in Blagojevich's administration, including whether it skirted a law giving military veterans first shot at state jobs.
The governor's own inspector general uncovered incidents in which Blagojevich's personnel director engaged in "a concerted effort to subvert" hiring laws.
Blagojevich has claimed that his office did not even look at names, let alone consider politics or clout, in hiring people for jobs that are supposed to be free of such influence.
But Blagojevich's personnel office took special interest in Brian Keen, then the son-in-law of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello of Belleville. In an internal memo obtained by the AP, a Blagojevich staff member said she wanted the military veteran's application "graded ASAP" and followed with other e-mails about it and Keen's attempts to get the proper certificate to fly state planes.
The Corrections Department hired Bernard Ysursa Jr., son of a Blagojevich contributor, as an East St. Louis prison administrator. Officials said he was the best candidate interviewed but that he needed more experience, so they made him an intern a position exempt from the veterans preference law. But another internal document shows that the agency created the internship a full week before Ysursa even interviewed for the job.
Responding to the attorney general's letter, CMS cited a federal ruling from Richmond, Va., that disclosing information about unsuccessful candidates for federal jobs "may embarrass or harm" them.
"Since our state privacy laws are based on federal statutes, and statutes always trump administrative rules, we believe it would violate the law to release application lists," CMS spokesman Justin DeJong said in an e-mail.
Future lists will be released, however. DeJong said when new application forms are printed, they will include a notice to candidates that information they provide will be made public.