Quinn says IDOT department will not be moved from Springfield

Andrew Thomason

Workers in the Illinois Department of Transportation's traffic safety division breathed a collective sigh of relief Friday morning when they learned Gov. Pat Quinn had decided to keep their jobs in Springfield.

After months of uncertainty, Quinn announced in a news release that the division and its more than 150 jobs will not move to Harrisburg, as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich had wanted.

“I am pleased to announce the employees of the Division of Traffic Safety will not have their lives disrupted and that these jobs will stay here in the capital city,” Quinn said in a news release.

The IDOT jobs are being kept in Springfield because it is “good for development in Springfield and Sangamon County,” Quinn spokeswoman Libby White said in an e-mail.

Members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 had a chance to talk with Quinn and IDOT representatives to explain why the traffic safety division should not move, said union spokesman Anders Lindall.

“I think they took a look at the facts and realized that these operations are best located in Springfield,” he said.

While the division will remain in Springfield, it will operate out of a different building. The new location hasn't been identified yet.

“A space needs request will be processed,” White said. “This will help determine a more cost-effective location in Springfield for the division.”

Employees celebrate

A round of applause burst out in a fourth-floor conference room at 3215 Executive Park Drive when traffic safety division employees learned their jobs would stay in Springfield.

“The mood has changed dramatically. We are all very excited,” said Joan Egizii, a nine-year employee of the division. “It was pretty bad out here for the past 10 1/2 months … we just felt like unwanted stepchildren.”

John Paris, another employee, agreed.

“For 10 months, people have been walking around not knowing what is going to happen, not knowing where you are going to be living or if you’re even going to have a job,” said Paris, the AFSCME steward for the traffic safety division.

Some employees were leaving work early Friday to celebrate the announcement.

“Several of us are taking some vacation and personal time (Friday) afternoon and enjoy the weekend,” Egizii said.

Quinn's decision to block the move to Harrisburg wasn’t exactly a surprise to employees.

Brian Hendricks said the proposed move was a Blagojevich political ploy. After Blagojevich’s arrest and subsequent removal from office, Hendricks and others gained more confidence that their office would stay put.

“We suspected the new governor would have a more rational approach,” said Hendricks, an office associate in the division.

Friday’s news was bittersweet for some employees, who wonder about the fate of former colleagues.

“There were people told that day that if you have chance to move out of this division, do so. If you have chance to take another job, do so,” Egizii said.

Several people followed up on that advice by transferring, finding new employment or simply retiring.

“In retrospect, I can’t see how that wouldn’t be a little disappointing for them,” Egizii said.

It is unclear whether people who transferred out of the division will be allowed to reclaim their old jobs.

Lawmakers' reaction mixed

Quinn’s announcement was a victory for Springfield legislators who fought against the move from the beginning.

“Cooler heads won out, and I want to commend the governor for making that decision,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. “And I’m really happy for those employees.”

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, agreed.

“Ever since former Gov. Blagojevich announced his plans to move the traffic safety division there has been a lot of anxiety,” Bomke stated. “I was very glad to hear that the move was not going to happen.”

But Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, doesn’t share that view.

Phelps, who worked to move the IDOT jobs south, said he is disappointed, but “didn’t really think the move would happen” because of the stigma attached to Blagojevich's policy decisions.

Still, Phelps said he will work to bring more jobs to his district.

“A hundred jobs would have been great, but Gov. Quinn is a very honorable man, and I’m going to remain optimistic that he will work to get jobs in southern Illinois,” Phelps said.

Phelps said he would still like to see the state use the Southeastern Illinois College Board of Education building that was going to house IDOT employees.

Tying up loose ends

But there could be a hitch in Phelps' plan. The state doesn’t own the property because Attorney General Lisa Madigan never signed off on buying it, as is required by law.

“The land deal is over,” said Don Craven, a Springfield lawyer who represented Springfield lawmakers and others in court concerning the move.

Additionally, Craven said that the lawsuit he filed would be withdrawn from the courts.

Quinn’s IDOT announcement was the second time in two days he has reversed a large-scale job transfer plan proposed by Blagojevich. On Thursday, Quinn overturned a plan to close the Pontiac Correctional Center and move many of its inmates to a new state prison at Thomson.

Andrew Thomason can be reached atandrew.thomason@sj-r.com.