State agency director Mays has spent $66K on travel

State agency director Mays has spent $66K on travel

The head of Illinois Department of Employment Security’s tab includes frequent Chicago stays

Jeff Mays, a former state representative appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to run the Illinois Department of Employment Security, has spent more than $66,000 in travel in 3 1/2 years — including spending more than 245 nights in Chicago and suburban hotels.

That amount is more than double what some other state department directors have spent on travel, according to state records.

Mays, 66, of Quincy, is paid $142,339 annually and was among directors named when Rauner took office in January 2015. He served in the House from 1981 to 1990 and took the job after leaving a post as president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, a policy-oriented voluntary association of chief executive officers of more than 60 of Illinois’ leading businesses. He also resigned as vice president of the Quincy School Board to take the job.

Travel vouchers for Mays show that in addition to frequent trips to Chicago, sometimes on Amtrak from Quincy, he also has had meetings with staff or national professional conferences, in cities ranging from Marion and Champaign to Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Records from the state comptroller’s office showed that Mays’ travel expenses included just under $10,500 in 2015, more than $21,400 in 2016, about $19,100 in 2017, and more than $15,400 so far in 2018.

The total of more than $66,000 is more than double that of the next-highest among a sampling of other directors, although some have not served for Rauner’s full term.

The next-highest travel expense total was former state Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, who heads the Department of Natural Resources. Rosenthal, who also was appointed in January 2015, has spent about $28,900 since then on travel, comptroller’s records showed.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said that as a lawmaker worried about state spending, he questions Mays’ travel and stays in Chicago.

“That sounds like an excessive amount of money, especially for someone who is in charge of the employment security office, which is helping to take care of people who are transitioning and trying find jobs in this state,” McSweeney said. “Maybe he should just move to Chicago and work out of that office if that’s where he thinks he needs to be. Or maybe he should just work out of his Springfield office and drive up for day trips.

“That’s one of the problems with these travel expenses,” McSweeney added. “There should be very senior approval required for travel, certainly for any conferences.”

In the case of the Chicago trips, McSweeney added, Mays should “not make taxpayers suffer for his commuting expenses. I think of my constituents who are out working multiple jobs to pay their property taxes, and to support their families, and this is just a complete waste of money.”

Bob Gough, spokesman for Mays’ agency, said that Mays is based in Springfield. 

“IDES has 36 offices around the state, including a large operation and hundreds of employees in Chicago,” Gough said. “Director Mays is the first downstate IDES director since the early 1990s. He is usually in Chicago two days a week — never exceeding the state rate for a room — and visits most of the office locations at least once a year. As a matter of fact, he was in Champaign Thursday.”

Gough also said Mays was chairman of the unemployment insurance committee for the National Associaton of State Workforce Agencies until earlier this year, and remains on the NASWA board of directors. Mays will be traveling to Washington next week on association business, Gough said.

Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Rauner, said in a statement that, “The Rauner administration has worked diligently to bring state of Illinois jobs back to our capital city that were shifted to Chicago in the previous administrations. The directors of state agencies frequently spend time in both Springfield and Chicago to oversee their operations. Director Mays is headquartered in Springfield — but visits IDES offices across the state.”

Gough said the agency has more than 1,100 employees spread among its offices, including 446 in the Chicago central office.

State travel control board rules encourage agency employees to consider if travel is essential — versus means of communication such as telephone or videoconferencing — and to consider money-saving options such as mass transit or Amtrak.

The state also has a list of more than 300 preferred hotels with discounted lodging rates, which vary depending on location and agreement. Some in Chicago area have a $130 base rate, while the base rate at several Springfield hotels is $70. Employees who can’t get a room at a preferred hotel have to show they tried to do so.

The job of the Department of Employment Security is to link job seekers with employers, administer unemployment insurance, provide re-employment services and produce and analyze labor market information. 

Mays’ travel voucher for the week of March 12-18 this spring had him spending seven nights in Chicago hotels. All seven nights — four at Hotel Chicago Downtown and three at The Ritz-Carlton — had a base prices of $130, which went to $152 with addition of taxes. That week, he spent $120 on cabs, got $168 in per diem payments, and the total for the week was $1,203. The reason for the trip listed was “Senior staff meetings,” which was listed on many of the vouchers.

At the low end of Chicago hotel prices obtained by Mays were three nights in February 2017, booked using Hotwire, at the Holiday Inn Chicago-Mart Plaza River North for $80 per night.

On the high end was a one-night stay in September 2016 at the Chicago South Loop Hotel. The Hotwire price was $285 plus $81 in taxes, or $366. The voucher states: “Checked 5 preferred hotels, none available, this was the cheapest I could find.”  

Contact Bernard Schoenburg: [email protected], 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.