I’m not exactly sure what to make of this, but at least we know some state employees are being given the chance to better themselves.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this, but at least we know some state employees are being given the chance to better themselves.

A notice recently went out offering Illinois Department of Transportation employees the opportunity sign up for some GATE (Growth and Training of Employees) courses. It seemed to make sense to offer “highway program finance,” “writing skills: putting your best word forward” and even “positive stress management.”

But I wasn’t so sure about “communicating through colors,” which is being offered in mid-January, and “conflict through colors,” which comes a couple of days later and has the “communicating” course as a prerequisite.

So I asked JOSH KAUFFMAN, spokesman for IDOT, what those last two were about.

“The two training classes in reference provide a creative, in-depth analysis of personality traits, adaptability mechanisms and conflict resolution tactics to further promote professional staff development as IDOT continues to administer the largest capital plan in state history,” he responded via e-mail. “The sessions do not incur any costs for employees as they are administered by certified instructors in IDOT’s Employee Services Training Unit. The names of the classes originated from the National Curriculum & Training Institute, a leading provider of staff development.”

I feel better already — kind of yellow, green and red, all at once.

Kirk taps Hoffman
Wiley Office Furniture in Springfield got a pretty high-level visit during the campaign season when the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, MITCH McCONNELL of Kentucky, joined candidate MARK KIRK at a news conference.

Well, that campaign worked, and longtime U.S. House member Kirk was promoted by voters in Illinois to the Senate. And Kirk has now named ZACHARY HOFFMAN, vice president of Wiley, as chairman of a small-business advisory committee.

Hoffman, who turns 41 on Jan. 1, said the full membership of the voluntary committee would include 20 to 25 people involved in small businesses from across the state. He said he’d like the board to come up with “practical and workable” ideas that will apply to business in general, and help Kirk craft legislation to help small business.

Wiley has 24 employees, and Hoffman said he met Kirk a couple times at events in Springfield, including the one at his business and at an earlier business-oriented discussion at another firm.
“He had a lot of economic insights,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman is also an appointed member of the Workforce Investment Board for Sangamon County, and served on Gov. PAT QUINN’s economic recovery commission. He defined his politics as “basically Republican.”

He knows the need for taxation to support government, he said, but he’d also like to see more long-term thinking.

“Personally what I would like to see within the tax code is just a greater level of certainty and stability,” Hoffman said.

And with the coming presidential election of 2012, he knows there will plenty of debate over tax policy.

New job for Forney
DeSHANA FORNEY, 40, a Springfield native now of Chicago, is the new associate director of governmental relations for the University of Illinois.

That means she’s a liaison between the university system and members of the Illinois congressional delegation, the General Assembly, state and federal offices including that of the governor, and higher education associations.

She brings a lot of governmental and political experience to the job. She was executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority from early 2007 to late 2009 and then ran the campaign of TERRY O’BRIEN, who came in second for Cook County Board president in November. He remains president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

She’s been a deputy director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, was delegation coordinator for the Illinois contingent at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000, was on the issues development staff for House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, and served the administration of then-Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH in capacities including legislative liaison to the House.

She is paid $115,000 annually in the new post.

While she’s still based in Chicago, she generally spends a couple days a week in Urbana and expects to be in Springfield for legislative sessions, Forney said. She still has family in Springfield.

She said she’s very happy with the new challenge, and she likes the diversity and uniqueness of each of the school’s three main campuses — in Chicago, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield.

The executive director of governmental relations for the university system is KATHERINE “KAPPY” LAING, and TERRY McLENNAND, a Rochester native and former GOP House clerk, is based in Champaign-Urbana and oversees federal relations for the U of I.

Reilly honored
A one-time state representative from Jacksonville, JIM REILLY, is the latest recipient of a prestigious Excellence in Public Service Award from Motorola and the Civic Foundation in Chicago.

Reilly is trustee of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs Navy Pier and the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago.

The annual award — this was the 19th — recognizes a non-elected state or local government official who has had a positive impact on the quality of government services through extraordinary leadership, teamwork and innovation, according to a news release.

After being in the Illinois House from 1977-83, Reilly went on to be chief of staff to both Govs. JIM THOMPSON and JIM EDGAR. He later headed the Regional Transportation Authority and led the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.

In his acceptance speech at the award ceremony Dec. 9, Reilly, whose elected posts were as a Republican, talked of the need for bipartisanship and compromise to get things done — to govern, not just to campaign. He said Illinois leaders have shown the ability to compromise, even calling House Speaker Madigan “a master of this process.”

But Reilly added that he hadn’t seen enough of the same ability from congressional leaders. He said if there isn’t that kind of compromise nationally to handle the national debt, an economic crisis could hit by 2020 and “devastate the U.S. beyond recognition.”

“Only time will tell whether a recent deal on tax extension heralds the dawn of a new day as some hope or is simply a dodge to get both parties out of a lose-lose situation, as I suspect,” Reilly said then.

DOUG WHITLEY, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, was so taken with Reilly’s message that he reprinted much of it in his own newsletter.

“I, for one, am thankful we have sensible, effective leaders like Jim Reilly in our state,” Whitley wrote. “And, I hope his words will inspire lawmakers and political leaders of both parties — at all levels of government — to reach across the aisle and GOVERN with a focus toward restoring Illinois’ reputation as a leader rather than the laggard we have become. … It will require bipartisanship.”

Last year’s winner of the “Excellence” reward was JUDY ERWIN of Springfield, who retired this summer as executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.