Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle took the opportunity Wednesday to criticize Sheriff Tom Dart, blaming Dart’s management in part for the rape of a female detainee and for the sexual harassment of female public defenders and jail guards. Dart’s office blamed collective bargaining agreements for a delay in the guards’ dismissal and obstinance from the public defender’s office for the detainees’ continued bad behavior.
Cook County commissioners approved a $3.25 million settlement for a woman who alleged civil rights violations by Dart’s office when she was raped by two male detainees during her detention at the Markham Courthouse. The two men face criminal charges.
Sheriff Dart announced he would move to fire nine of his employees whom, he said, were “determined to have allowed the rape” when they allowed two men into the woman’s holding cell.
“Clearly what happened was unacceptable and we should all be outraged, but we need to understand how this kind of thing could possibly happen in one of our lockups. What were the management and supervision issues that led to this? What has the sheriff done besides move to fire these individuals to prevent a repeat incident?” Preckwinkle said.
Since 2015, she said the county board has approved $25 million in legal settlements originating from complaints against the sheriff’s office. He should “do a better job to put systems in place so there are clear operational and managerial guidelines for staff. This is disgraceful.”
Sheriff spokesperson Cara Smith said the office has “done everything in our power and under our control to put in place additional measures to ensure this won’t happen again,” including “body cameras, additional training, additional supervisors, and installing mirrors,”
As for the firing of the officers at Markham, there is “nothing delayed about it. There’s a frustrating process that we’re required to abide by in collective bargaining agreements,” Smith said. “It includes 14 days notice prior to the firing of the complainant, a whole host of time frames that will be up on Monday. That’s when the complaints can be filed.”
Preckwinkle’s management criticism also extended to a recent lawsuit filed against Dart and Public Defender Amy Campanelli by female public defenders and jail guards, who say detainees frequently expose themselves to the defenders, and masturbate openly in their presence. Authorities haven’t done enough to stop it, the suit claims.
“Look. This is clearly bad behavior, sexual harassment. I think the Sheriff needs to supervise detainees in lockups,” Preckwinkle said. “When there was more vigorous supervision this happened less often.”
Smith disagreed. “This is not a matter of staffing. In fact, the president’s office has demanded we cut staffing. This is a matter of the public defender’s office in particular coming together to work on strategies to deter it.”
The sheriff’s office has proposed cuffing defendants behind the back during visits with attorneys, and waiving defendants’ appearances in court or providing video hearings if they masturbate or expose themselves. The public defender has opposed both, Smith said.
“This is a very, very complicated problem that is made worse by the obstructionist behavior of the public defender’s office. We need to come together for solutions that may be uncomfortable for a defense attorney, but they are necessary.”
Preckwinkle confident in her budget solution
Preckwinkle says she is working toward securing the nine votes needed to pass her budget proposal next week, which includes laying off roughly 500 county employees and eliminating 1,000 vacant positions. She said she had to provide her own budget amendment because commissioners “couldn’t do it, and it’s my obligation as executive.”
That’s a reversal from just after the beverage tax was repealed, when she and allies placed the onus on commissioners who voted for the repeal to cut their way to $200 million.
“In our democracy it’s the obligation of the executive to present the budget, and the obligation of the legislature to approve the budget,” Preckwinkle said a month ago. “The legislature has an obligation… to decide what amendments or changes they wish to make.”
This week, she proposed her own omnibus budget amendment. As The Daily Line reported on Tuesday, it includes 591 layoffs, and roughly 750 vacancy eliminations on top of about 235 included in her original 2018 budget.
The proposal spares the state’s attorney and public defender, but cuts deepest from the chief judge, sheriff, and clerk of the circuit court. Preckwinkle said her staff did its best to preserve front line workers and improve the ratio of managers to staff.
While she said eliminating 1,000 vacancies “will make a big impact on the prospective budget gap that we face,” the full impact won’t be clear until after the budget is finalized.
“The beverage tax was to provide a three-year plan for financial stability,” Preckwinkle spokesperson Frank Shuftan told The Daily Line Wednesday. “Repeal of the tax means that we have to make $200 million worth of cuts for FY18, but also acknowledge that the lack of revenue will impact the next two years.”
“Some of the cuts – such as layoffs and vacancy eliminations – will transfer to future years. But steps such as deferring purchases may not. And FY 18 furloughs do nothing for the structural issues facing the county in fiscal 19 and 20.”
Those structural issues include rising costs from utilities, healthcare, and debt service, he said. “It’s too early to determine what the out-year shortfall might be – quite frankly, our focus right now trying to finalize the budget for FY 18.”
Sexual Harassment Ordinance Referred to Committee
Preckwinkle did not comment on a proposal from the county board to mandate sexual harassment training for county employees and lobbyists.
Asked about her own experiences with harassment, she said, “I’m six feet tall and kind of an imposing person, so I haven’t had some of the terrible experiences other people have had. It was in my early career as a teacher when I was a lot younger when I had to deal with harassment,” but commended women who have come forward.
All commissioners asked for leave to be sponsors on the harassment ordinance, which was referred to the Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations committee.
Comm. Richard Boykin (D-1) told reporters he plans to introduce a budget amendment to add a dedicated investigator in the Office of the Inspector General focused on sexual harassment and assault.
There are a patchwork of resources for county employees to report harassment, including with human resources departments within the county and state, by filing a federal EEOC complaint, or to the county’s Commission on Human Relations, which can receive complaints from any employer in the county, including private companies. Some offices, like the clerk of the circuit court and sheriff, have their own inspectors general.
Water, Recreational Marijuana, Lactation Room Ordinances Referred to Committee
Hearings related to the cost of water in Cook County, inspired by the Chicago Tribune investigation, “The Water Drain,” were referred to the Human Relations committee. At her post-board press conference, Preckwinkle said there was little the county could do to alleviate costs besides raising awareness of the issue, since Cook County is not a water distributor and cannot control municipal rates.
Though Comm. John Fritchey (D-12) was absent while recovering from a recent hip replacement surgery, his ballot referendum on recreational marijuana was referred to the Legislation Committee. He said he has kept up on board proceedings on the county’s live stream. Fritchey and Comm. Bridget Gainer’s (D-10) proposal to examine the availability of lactation rooms in county buildings was referred to the same committee.
A proposal to convene public safety stakeholders to conduct court utilization study was referred to the Asset Management Committee. Several commissioners have suggested the county cut costs by closing branch or district courts, which must be staffed with attorneys, sheriffs, and judges and maintained by county facilities employees.
Further changes to the county’s public testimony rules that appeared aimed at concerned citizen George Blakemore were referred to the Rules and Administration committee.
‘Invest in Cook’, State’s Attorney Disclosures Approved
Commissioners approved a slate of projects related to the Department of Transportation and Highways’ “Invest in Cook” program. Announced during last year’s budget, it invested $7.2 million of county money to leverage federal, state and local funds for transportation projects countywide. The renovation of the 147th Street Metra Electric Station, a feasibility study of a highly populated access road in Franklin Park, and an examination of railroad crossings’ impact on resident quality of life in Dolton all made the cut.
Cook County Comm. Deborah Sims (D-2), the chairwoman of the County’s Roads and Bridges Committee, said in a release that “long-neglected, disadvantaged communities in particular are benefiting from the County’s targeting of its transportation funds.”
A new rule mandating the state’s attorney’s office give notice when the county intends to file counter-claims seeking more than $100,000 in damages or fees also passed the full board. The change was spurred by the Preckwinkle administration’s decision to counter-sue the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) for damages in the beverage tax suit.
Commissioners also approved a $27,000 lobbying contract with John J. Millner and Associates, Inc. Millner is a former Republican member of the Illinois House and Senate and served as the Elmhurst Chief of Police for more than 30 years. During his time in the general assembly, Millner focused on law enforcement legislation, and owns a law enforcement training company. Millner already lists the President’s Office as a client.