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Overtime-monitoring system lags at juvenile center

Friday, January 13, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Coen

Four months after a contract was approved for a new system to keep better track of overtime at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, officials confirmed the equipment is not in place.

County records have shown large amounts of questionable overtime have been paid to employees at the center in recent years. During much of that time, workers used clipboards to record how much time they spent on the job, employees at the facility have said.

On Sept. 8, the Cook County Board approved a contract worth more than $30,000 with Analytical Science Corp. of Crestwood, and Jerry Robinson, the center's superintendent, said he expected the system would be installed in a matter of weeks.

Robinson said the new system would recognize employee fingerprints and cut down on overtime abuse within a matter of weeks.

This week, John Gibson, a spokesman for Cook County Board President John Stroger, confirmed the equipment is not yet keeping track of the hours employees are working. The delay can be attributed to a "software glitch," Gibson said.

Scott Paarlberg, sales director for the company, said the equipment should be running by the end of the first quarter. Workers are training staff members at the center to use it, he said, and are developing an interface between the latest equipment available on the market and the company's existing software.

The Tribune has reported that more than 100 employees at the center were paid overtime at least 30 percent above their normal salaries in 2004. County records are not available for 2005, but documents show nearly $4 million was paid in overtime during 2004. In 2003, the figure was nearly $6 million, according to records provided by the county.

Stroger's critics allege the center is filled with patronage hires, a contention the board president rejects.

Conditions at the center have been the subject of controversy in recent months, with the American Civil Liberties Union charging that the center is mismanaged and that youths housed there are subjected to violence. The ACLU sued the county in 1999 and recently asked a federal judge to appoint an independent manager to oversee reform there.

U.S. District Judge John Nordberg ordered the ACLU and the county into mediation Wednesday.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which specializes in the care of disadvantaged children, is expected to release findings within two or three weeks.



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