IL: Madigan's Metra Influence Detailed in Report

A secret report put together by the legislature's watchdog in the wake of last summer's Metra scandal offers new insight into how Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan navigates the intersection of public business and ward-style patronage through his Southwest Side office and Illinois Capitol suite.

The analysis by then-Inspector General Thomas Homer — based on interviews with Madigan's political allies, government officials and the speaker himself — presents those methods in an unflattering fashion.

The report contains an account of Metra's chairwoman entering Madigan's Capitol office to talk about state issues and leaving with a yellow Post-it note bearing names of two workers the speaker wanted to see promoted. In another meeting, a Metra lobbyist who was a longtime Madigan aide was spotted leaving the speaker's office with two resumes. Another time, Madigan simply called the cellphone of one of his "better" precinct captains to tell him about a state job, according to the report.

A copy of the unreleased report, obtained by the Tribune, also gives a rare glimpse into Madigan's thoughts on getting people government jobs and raises. In an interview with Homer, Madigan is quoted as speaking highly of both the work-related credentials and the political experience of one 13th Ward operative the speaker backed for a raise.

"You can understand that there are many people that are involved with me and campaigns and community service," Madigan said, according to the report. "Among these many people, some are better than others. (He) happens to be one of those who is better than others."

The report is the product of an investigation Madigan requested a year ago as a scandal unfolded surrounding the ouster of then-Metra CEO Alex Clifford and the severance package he took with him that was worth up to $871,000. The legislative inspector general was tasked with looking into whether Madigan's actions in the high-profile scandal created pressure that contributed to Clifford's departure — a notion Madigan denied through an attorney, according to the report.

In April, Madigan's office issued a statement saying that Homer "found no violation of any law" by the speaker and that the case was closed. Homer had concluded that "insufficient evidence" existed to say Madigan violated the state ethics act or other related laws, according to the report.

But the never-released Homer report, which was reviewed by the bipartisan representatives and senators who sit on the Legislative Ethics Commission, roundly criticized Madigan and his allies for the "timing and persistence" of personnel requests to Metra.

"(Madigan) should have realized, given his influential position, that by making the requests at the conclusion of meetings with Metra officials to discuss funding and other legislative issues, he would be creating reciprocal expectations," Homer wrote.

"This unhealthy situation was exacerbated by the subsequent communications to Metra by the speaker or persons associated with him inquiring as to the state of the promotion requests when favorable action was not forthcoming," Homer concluded.

On Monday, a Madigan spokesman issued a statement in response to Tribune questions about the report.

"Speaker Madigan asked the Legislative Inspector General to investigate this matter. He cooperated fully with the investigation and provided all requested information. The Legislative Inspector General has found no violation of any law, including the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

The Madigan methods that Homer described reflected the Tribune's findings in a far-reaching investigation published in January. The paper identified hundreds of current or retired public employees at every level of state and local government who work elections for Madigan, donate regularly to his campaign funds, register voters for him or circulate candidate petitions on his behalf.

The Tribune also found repeated instances in which Madigan took action to get them jobs, promotions or raises, just as he did at Metra. Tribune interviews with nine veteran government officials who oversaw hiring, promotions or raises recalled Madigan personally suggesting people for specific jobs, checking in on how people were doing in their jobs or requesting that they make more money or get a better position.

In each case, the officials said Madigan never demanded action, but they felt compelled to follow his suggestions.

In his report, Homer maintained that the "proximity" of Madigan's discussions about the transit system's agenda and the speaker's mentions of favored Metra workers "created the impression among Metra officials that the speaker's support for Metra's legislative initiatives may be linked."

"While this may not have been the speaker's intention, the natural inferences to be drawn by Metra officials should have been obvious," Homer wrote. "Moreover, when the requested promotions were not immediately forthcoming, the follow-up inquiries by the speaker or his agents created additional angst at Metra and contributed to the controversy."

The Tribune's disclosure of the Homer report represents the first airing of confidential information about the Madigan investigation done by the legislative inspector general and presented to the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission.

The closed-door process keeps most cases sealed, particularly in matters deemed unfounded, as was the case with Madigan and Metra. It would have taken five votes of the commission, which is divided evenly with four Democrats and four Republicans, to release the report to the public.

The commission's meeting minutes also are secret, and committee members — virtually all party loyalists — are told they cannot publicly discuss their deliberations or whether they agreed with, disagreed with, changed or quashed Homer's report.

Homer would not comment about the Madigan report, nor would he release a copy, instead pointing to a statement he released in April when the speaker's office announced that the investigation was closed. "A decision to close an investigation based on insufficient evidence does not constitute a Good Housekeeping seal of approval or a best practices award," wrote Homer, a former Fulton County state's attorney, Democratic state representative and appellate court judge whose tenure as legislative inspector general ended June 30.

Heart of the scandal

The Metra scandal erupted last summer after a buildup of clashes between ranking transit board members and Clifford that ended up with him learning his contract would not be renewed. In April 2013, Clifford wrote what became an explosive memo in which he contended that board members feared his refusal to go along with Madigan's personnel requests would have damaging repercussions.

Clifford was ousted in June 2013, leaving with a golden parachute of potentially $871,000, though his new job leading a transit system in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a move that could slice Metra's tab considerably. At the time, however, the disclosure led to raucous public hearings and a Metra board overhaul.

The midlevel Metra bureaucrat who drew the most attention was Patrick Ward, a Madigan precinct captain whom the speaker backed for a promotion and raise. Shortly before a House hearing on the matter last July, Madigan acknowledged he sought to help Ward.

The new report sheds a little light on Madigan's tightknit 13th Ward operation, where he shares space with Ald. Marty Quinn, who told Homer that office costs are covered with political funds.

Madigan acknowledged that he was "generally trying to help Pat Ward get a promotion" by making the "request to Metra" through Ald. Quinn and Metra lobbyist Tom Cullen, according to the interview with Homer. Both Quinn and Cullen are former high-level legislative staffers for Madigan and have served on his political team.

Madigan cited Ward's good resume, master's degree, abilities and reputation for hard work. Homer noted that Ward moved out of Madigan's ward around 2000 and still returned to serve as a precinct captain.

Homer called it "naive to believe" that Madigan "was not primarily motivated by Ward's longtime service to the 13th Ward and status as a campaign contributor" in making the request for a raise and promotion.

The watchdog also interviewed Ward, who told Homer he was hired after an unexpected 2008 phone call from Metra about a labor relations job paying about $57,000 and that he later learned from Quinn that his resume had been forwarded to several public agencies.

By 2012, Ward had complained to the alderman about going years without a raise. As previously disclosed, Ward wanted to be paid around $70,000. The push for a raise soon began, and Clifford confronted Ward about it. Soon thereafter, Madigan withdrew the request. Ward quit Metra and called Quinn in November 2012.

About two months later, Madigan called Ward's cellphone with word of an opening at the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, according to Homer's interview with Ward.

The state agency has confirmed that Madigan met at his Capitol office in January 2013 with the agency's director of labor relations to be brought up to speed on pending issues, and then raised Ward's name once the briefing had concluded.

"After the meeting, the speaker recommended a candidate for any openings in the labor relations bureau and provided a resume," agency spokeswoman Anjali Julka told the Tribune last summer.

Close followers of the Metra scandal know the rest: Ward got hired for a state job paying about $70,000 — just the amount he wanted.

Madigan meetings

Homer's report contained two other examples of Madigan using similar approaches in his Capitol office. Clifford recounted that he met with Madigan in February 2011. Also in the meeting about transit funding was then-Metra board Chair Carole Doris. Clifford left the room while Doris stayed. Clifford told Homer that Doris left with a "look of concern," carrying what Doris recalled was a yellow Post-it note with the names of two people Madigan wanted promoted.

Doris said she did not recall whether Madigan simply requested promotions or just wanted to "put in a good word for them" but said she took no action regarding them, Homer reported. Doris said she had not seen Homer's report and declined comment last week.

Clifford recalled a similar meeting in March 2012 in which Cullen, the Metra lobbyist, carried two resumes out of Madigan's office. Cullen did not remember whether Madigan handed him resumes, "although he may have," according to Cullen's interview with Homer.

In his interview with the inspector general, Madigan said he was unaware that a salary freeze had been in place when he was pushing for Ward's raise. Nor was Madigan aware of a 1983 law that requires transit agency hiring and promotion decisions to be based on merit and bans discrimination for political reasons or factors, according to Homer's report.

"Metra has long been a patronage haven for politicians from both parties even though Metra has been statutorily and judicially prohibited from taking politics into account in personnel matters for the past 30 years," Homer wrote.

The report also contains new details on the case of James Hines, a second worker whose name surfaced last summer as having Madigan's backing for a Metra promotion.

According to Homer, Madigan said he did not know Hines but supported the promotion based solely on the speaker's political associations with Cicero Township Democratic Committeeman Charlie Hernandez and his spouse, Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, one of the speaker's Democratic House members.

In his interview with Homer, Ald. Quinn said Hines asked him for help in getting the promotion at Metra, so Quinn passed it along to the transit agency and told Madigan. The speaker said he agreed to Quinn's request on the Hines promotion. "I said yes," Madigan told Homer, according to the report. "Obviously, politically, we work with Hernandez. Both of them. Both Hernandez people."


rlong@tribune.com

Twitter @RayLong

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