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`It may look bad'

Friday, November 18, 2005
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

Jerry Robinson, superintendent of the beleaguered Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, arrived at work Thursday to a surprise.

He had a new employee, according to a local newspaper. It was an employee for a job that was never posted, at least not internally, and that hasn't been filled for nearly four years.

The new high-level hire just happens to be the sister of Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno. Moreno gave his sister's resume to Cook County Board President John Stroger even though, he said, "I didn't think she would get it."

Moreno is a water-carrier for Stroger, who has established his own friends-and-family hiring plan at the center, and who is largely responsible for why incompetence there reigns supreme.

What's astonishing is that Stroger's friends-and-family plan is as active as ever, despite fresh evidence of the appalling practices and conditions at the facility on Chicago's West Side. Stroger and other county officials have a date on Jan. 11 with U.S. District Judge John Nordberg, who has ordered them to report to him on the sorry conditions at the center.

Robinson had told everyone willing to listen that he most desperately needs a full-time investigator, one who could look into the many cases of violence at the center, including allegations that staffers have abused youths there.

Instead, Stroger offered Maria Szafarczyk an $84,000-a-year position as assistant superintendent overseeing staff training. Szafarczyk said in an interview Thursday that she thought this was a job to be a hearing officer, and she hadn't even gotten a formal offer yet. Her brother, the commissioner, thought the job was to oversee programs. When the Tribune asked Szafarczyk if she could describe her specific duties or ideas for the job, she said, "To tell you the truth, no."

Szafarczyk has experience as a midlevel administrator at Richard J. Daley College. Her resume lists no experience in social work, corrections or working with troubled youths, unless you count the swimming, soccer and other sports classes she coordinated for the Chicago Park District 30 years ago. Her college degree is in physical education.

Szafarczyk may be well-meaning, but she demonstrates no awareness of what kinds of programs are needed for kids in the detention center and no knowledge about the complicated job of properly training counselors.

And that goes to the fundamental problem at the detention center. Stroger doesn't care about experience. He cares about political loyalty.

And Moreno is that, he is loyal. He has had no impact on the County Board, but he has been a reliable vote for Stroger.

Stroger faces a challenge for his job in the March Democratic primary. He faces increasing opposition on the board. He has only a few loyalists left there. But he has Moreno.

"It may look bad, that it looks like the president is giving me this in order to solidify my loyalty to him," Moreno said. "He didn't have to give my sister a job for me to be loyal with him."

How reassuring



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