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April 14, 2003

Blagojevich fires Ryan administration official for scheming to lock top-level state employees into jobs
Governor urges resignation of two other Ryan staffers involved

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced the firing of a former senior Ryan administration official now serving on a state commission and a recommendation that two other Ryan staffers be dismissed from state employment for their roles last year in orchestrating a scheme to lock friends and allies of Gov. George Ryan into long-term, high-paying state jobs.

“These individuals were the architects and general contractors of a plan specifically designed to abuse the state’s personnel system,” Blagojevich said. “They not only devised the plan, they told state agencies how to execute it and threatened those who refused to go along.”

The governor ordered Diane Ford removed from her position on the Industrial Commission, and urged the Civil Service Commission to ask for the resignations of Robert Powers, the commission’s executive director, and Sarajane Wright, Power’s assistant at the commission. All three served in Ryan’s legal office -- Ford as general counsel, Powers as deputy general counsel and Wright as an administrative assistant -- when they concocted a complicated series of moves to improperly assist 40 state employees to extend their terms of employment to 2006.

The employees, who were paid an average of $80,000 a year, were serving in coveted four-year terms that were set to expire early in the Blagojevich administration. In order to guarantee job security, agencies where the Ryan loyalists worked were instructed to have the employee resign their position, place them in another job for four days, and then have them reinstalled in their old job with a new four-year term appointment.

When one agency director balked at approving the deal, Ford threatened to have him removed if he did not cooperate. In another instance, when a director refused to sign the necessary paperwork, Ford and Powers simply signed their names as the agency managers and approved the transactions. Other paperwork was back-dated so the four-month probationary period the employees had to serve in their “new” jobs expired before Blagojevich took office.

“This is the type of backroom, under-handed deal that has marked state government in recent years,” Blagojevich said. “It’s a business as usual approach that has been winked at and allowed to go on unchecked, but will not be allowed in my administration. Those responsible are going to be held accountable and are no longer welcome as state employees.”

The 40 employees who benefited and participated in the scheme also face disciplinary action for signing false statements. After confronting the employees, seven resigned, 14 were terminated and 19 admitted their participation.

Those who conceded their involvement had their new terms ruled invalid, were suspended for two weeks without pay and allowed to return to their former positions to complete their original terms. Two have applied and were rehired to new four-year terms appointments, nine have terms that will expire in 2003, five have terms that end in 2004 and three have terms that take them into 2005. The continued employment of those who come up for term renewals have been left up to agency director’s to justify.

Since Ford’s appointment to the $101,790 position on the Industrial Commission was a gubernatorial appointment, Blagojevich has the authority to remove her from the post. She was named to the commission by Ryan toward the end of his administration.

Powers and Wright are employed by Civil Service Commission, which is not under the governor’s control, so it will be up to that commission to determine their fate. Powers, who was appointed as the commission’s executive director Oct. 1, 2002, is paid $100,680 and Wright, who began her job Dec. 16, 2002, makes $53,592.

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