Joshua Lanning, executive assistant to state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, has routinely shared a room with his boss.
Joshua Keeps his boss company and apparently is a quiet sleeper. Joshua (with glasses) seems to be Holding the cup of Coffee ..handsome devil!
On the other hand this is State Treasure Rutherford GOP and Does not believe men should be sleeping together
unless is to count numbers and sheeps in bed. Nothing more.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford routinely roomed overnight in hotels and a Chicago apartment with a low-level treasurer's office employee whom he has given a 50 percent pay hike, raising questions about the workplace judgment of the Republican candidate for governor.
Rutherford said he has shared a room with his executive assistant, Joshua Lanning, scores of times since taking office in 2011, a practice he says is a way to save money for his campaign fund.
"We double-bunk in the campaign," Rutherford said. "We always double-bunk when we can. Totally as a cost-saving measure."
Several human resources experts said superiors should avoid sharing a room with a subordinate, for reasons ranging from potential discomfort for the employee to allegations of favoritism or harassment against the boss. But one expert said in some cases, the job responsibilities may justify room sharing.
Questions about Rutherford's workplace conduct have recently become an issue for taxpayers and voters in the March 18 Republican primary. Rutherford was sued in federal court Monday by a former top manager in the office who accused the treasurer of repeatedly sexually harassing him and pressuring him to do campaign work at taxpayer expense. The ex-employee is seeking damages, including for medical issues he said were caused by the alleged harassment.
The Tribune first detailed questions about Rutherford's taxpayer-funded travel expenses in January 2012. The newspaper began a new examination of the treasurer's office as part of its look at all of the candidates seeking the GOP nomination.
The treasurer's official schedule and state travel vouchers for him and Lanning indicate they shared space in a studio apartment in downtown Chicago at least 50 times between 2011 and mid-2012. During that same time, they also shared hotel rooms at least a half-dozen times while traveling on state business, including overnights in Chicago, Bloomingdale and Danville, and billed the state, records show.
In a recent interview with the Tribune, Rutherford sought to draw a distinction about the practice, saying the room-sharing only occurred while he and Lanning were doing campaign work and paying with political funds — not working for state government. He disputed many of the public travel vouchers that indicated the two men shared hotel rooms on half a dozen official trips and billed the state for it.
Rutherford said in the interview that Lanning is the only treasurer's office employee with whom he has shared a room. Both men live about 100 miles from Chicago, in central Illinois: Rutherford in Chenoa and Lanning in nearby Pontiac.
Lanning is also the only staffer to accompany Rutherford on three foreign trips as treasurer, as well as on a private trip to Australia to visit Rutherford's nephew.
"A constitutional officer travels overseas and has a staff member that accompanies them is not something that I think is inappropriate," Rutherford said.
Rutherford rejected the notion that his room-sharing practice could lead to accusations of favoritism or expose taxpayers to potential lawsuits from employees, reiterating that it is a campaign policy "and it's worked."
Asked who he shared a room with other than Lanning, Rutherford said, "Well, I haven't."
Pressed on whether the practice raised questions about his judgment, Rutherford quickly responded, "No."
"There's nothing wrong with being friends with employees," Rutherford said. "I consider myself friends with many in the office."
Lanning did not respond to emails and the treasurer's office declined to make him available for an interview.
Rutherford sat down with the newspaper to discuss his travel practices Jan. 31, the day he held a news conference to announce he was launching an outside investigation into the then-unspecified misconduct allegations made against him by an unnamed employee.
Those details emerged in the federal lawsuit filed by Edmund Michalowski, Rutherford's former director of community affairs and marketing. Michalowski, 43, of Chicago, alleged that since joining the office in January 2011 he was pressured to do political work, including raising money for Rutherford's political fund. He also accused Rutherford of repeatedly "hitting on" him as well as grabbing "at his genital area" during a visit to Rutherford's home.
At a news conference Monday, Rutherford denied the allegations and suggested the accusations were motivated in part by financial pressures facing Michalowski, who resigned last week. Rutherford also contends one of his GOP rivals in the race, businessman Bruce Rauner, is connected to the controversy because Rauner paid Michalowski's attorney $3,500 last year for campaign work. Rauner said the payment was for reviewing his campaign office lease and called Rutherford's accusation ridiculous.
Human resources experts interviewed by the Tribune said sharing rooms might be a way to save money during tight fiscal times but that employees should only do so if they are at a similar level of seniority. But one said it could depend on a person's responsibilities.
Amy Oppenheimer, a California attorney, investigator, government consultant and expert witness on workplace harassment issues, said, "Supervisors and subordinates need to have a certain amount of professional distance so that a supervisor can take action that the subordinate may disagree with and to ensure that they're not friends.
"And sharing a room with someone is an intimate friendship activity, not a supervisor/subordinate activity," Oppenheimer said.
The explanation that the rooming arrangement only happens on campaign business doesn't remove potential risk, she said, because Lanning is also a state employee.
"Let's say this assistant didn't work for the state and was just a campaign employee and they shared a room, it's probably not so much of an issue," Oppenheimer said.
"But then it bleeds into the fact that this is a state employee and how much choice does a person really have?" she said. "It's about trying to sort of understand what people can comfortably say no to and what they can't. And it certainly brings up the appearance of potential impropriety."
Ken Pinnock, associate director of human resources at the University of Denver, said keeping a professional distance helps insulate managers from allegations of misconduct.
"My advice is more separation is always better, particularly should this very thing arise," Pinnock said, referring to Rutherford's Jan. 31 announcement.
Perception is very important for leaders, particularly in government where there is a higher expectation of transparency, said Pinnock, who sits on the Society for Human Resource Management's panel on ethics.
"As a manager you always have to be aware of how things might be perceived," Pinnock said of room-sharing. "And depending on the dynamics that are occurring, that situation could be perceived as negative and could be perceived as favoritism or alleged favoritism."
But Jim Balassone, head of the business ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said an executive assistant isn't a typical low-level employee and it could make sense for Rutherford and Lanning to share a room.
"I think if it were just a high-level executive sharing a room with a random employee it would be strange, it would be weird. People would ask, 'What's the rationale?' " Balassone said. "But here they are traveling together and because of the close relationship, not only his state job but his campaign job, my sense is that they are literally kind of joined at the hip."
Lanning, 28, has worked for Rutherford since 2008 when the then-state senator hired him to do clerical work at his senate office in Pontiac. Lanning became a political worker when Rutherford campaigned for treasurer in 2010, accompanying the candidate to events all over the state.
When Rutherford won, Lanning took the job as executive assistant to the treasurer, an administrative role in which he routinely travels with Rutherford and handles phone calls and scheduling.
Lanning is "basically the point guy when we're on the road, in the Capitol office or when we're in the Chicago office," Rutherford told the newspaper.
In 2009, Lanning made $24,000 a year working for the state senator. When he became the treasurer's executive assistant in 2011, Lanning's salary increased to $40,000. Since then he has received two more bumps in pay. He now earns $60,000 annually — a 50 percent salary hike from when he started in the treasurer's office.
Asked why Lanning received the raises, Rutherford said they were for taking on additional duties, which Rutherford identified as preparing the treasurer's travel vouchers.
Other treasurer's employees have received raises as well, and several top policy advisers make $100,000 or more.
Rutherford said he and Lanning developed the routine of sharing a room during the 2010 campaign.
It continued, Rutherford said, while he was heading the Illinois operation for the Mitt Romney Republican presidential campaign in 2012 and routinely found himself in Chicago on political business, or a mix of state business and political business.
From January 2011 through October 2012, records indicate, Rutherford stayed overnight at least 90 times in a studio apartment in downtown Chicago owned by a political supporter. The owner's wife is also a Rutherford friend and supporter whose son was hired by the treasurer's office in 2011.
Rutherford did not charge the state for overnight stays those nights, the records show, but paid the apartment owner $9,200 from a federal campaign fund set up to support the Romney campaign in Illinois.
Rutherford said when he stayed overnight in the apartment and Lanning was also in Chicago, the two would share the apartment.
Although Rutherford said the two get separate hotel rooms when on state business, he acknowledged rooming with Lanning on two state-paid trips in 2011 — one to Washington, D.C., and the other to New York City. He said those were exceptions to save money on hotels in high-priced cities.
But Rutherford's schedule and travel vouchers, obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, show more state-paid room sharing.
In July 2011, the two men stayed at the Pere Marquette hotel in Peoria, according to state records. Rutherford submitted a $96 hotel bill and noted on his travel voucher that rate was for a "double occupancy." Lanning did not bill the state for a room.
Two months later, on their way to catch a flight the next morning to New York City where Rutherford and Lanning would stay in the same hotel room, both men spent the night in Chicago. Records show Rutherford submitted a $171 bill for one night at the Chicago O'Hare Hilton while Lanning submitted no bill. Rutherford's bill notes two guests staying in the room.
In December 2011, Rutherford and Lanning were in Bloomingdale on state business, records show. On his travel voucher, Rutherford states the $103 hotel bill was for "1 night, double occupancy." Lanning didn't bill the state for the overnight stay. A month later, a Rutherford voucher notes a $70 hotel stay at a Days Inn in Danville was also for "1 night, double occupancy."
After Rutherford questioned some of the state records in his interview with the newspaper, chief of staff Kyle Ham said a 2013 internal audit found the treasurer had incorrectly billed the state for the Peoria, Bloomingdale and Danville trips. Rutherford wrote a personal check to the state to cover those hotel expenses.
As treasurer, Rutherford has traveled to China, Israel and Korea on trips paid for by outside interest groups. Each time, he only brought one staffer along — Lanning.
Even though there are several people much higher in the treasurer's executive office who deal with policy, Rutherford said he picked Lanning for the three official visits because Lanning acts as a conduit between Rutherford and others in the state office.
"Because the main role would be communications and coordinating scheduling," Rutherford said.
Rutherford explained that Lanning paid his own way on the Australia trip because he is personal friends with Rutherford's nephew. Photos of the trip are posted on the treasurer's public Facebook page, which has thousands of fans.
Rutherford, who prides himself on being a frugal spender of taxpayer dollars as well as his own campaign cash, often toggles from government to political mode on any given day.
Records show he only occasionally billed taxpayers for stays in Chicago during his first 22 months as treasurer, despite numerous visits for official public business. Instead he stayed at the apartment at 400 E. Randolph St. owned by Mark Weiman, a Chicago dentist.
During that same period, Rutherford hired the son of Weiman's wife, Rita Zak, who now makes $78,000 a year as the program manager for the Invest in Illinois farm loan program.
Rutherford told the Tribune he saw nothing wrong with hiring Benson Zak.
"There was an opening and he had the qualifications for it," Rutherford said. "A lot of people that work in state government have family members that support candidates."
Rutherford acknowledged he's known Weiman and Rita Zak for years, and the pair have been actively involved in Republican politics in Chicago. Election reports show Rita Zak donated $4,900 in free lodging to Rutherford for the apartment between 2009 and 2010, when he was running for treasurer.
Neither Zak, his mother nor Weiman returned calls for comment.
Rutherford said he was using the apartment a lot while working on the Romney campaign and generally followed his own rule: If he was in Chicago on political business, he'd stay in the apartment; if he was in Chicago on state business, he would stay at a hotel and submit a voucher to be picked up by taxpayers.
Records show that Rutherford submitted only a handful of such hotel vouchers during the first 18 months as treasurer. But in the second half of his term, as he ramped up his campaign for governor, Rutherford has routinely billed taxpayers for overnight hotel stays in Chicago.
In the interview with the Tribune, Rutherford said there was no connection between his increased campaign schedule and the increase in his Chicago hotel stays billed to taxpayers.
"I don't think it has anything to do with ratcheting up for governor," he said, "I'm up here in Chicago on state stuff."
By John Chase and Monique Garcia, Tribune reporters
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