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New sheriff in town

Friday, December 01, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Tom Dart was sworn in today as Cook County's first new sheriff in 16 years and said the position's $160,000 annual salary was "more than adequate."

Dart's comments came after former Sheriff Michael Sheahan filed a lawsuit against Cook County Thursday, two hours before the close of business on his last day in office.

Sheahan claims the county owes him and other top personnel additional money for running the county boot camp that is located next to the jail.

"I look at the salary that I get as covering everything I'm doing there, whether it's working … in the jail or it's working in the courts," said Dart, 44, who's married and has three young children. "That was the salary I signed up for… It's very sufficient."

Incoming County Board President Todd Stroger said it was too early to make a definitive comment on Sheahan's lawsuit.

"The sheriff is a good man. I don't think he would try to take anything from the county that he didn't think he deserved," Stroger said while attending Dart's ceremony. "But it needs to be looked at to see if it has merit."

Dart, a former state lawmaker and Cook County assistant state's attorney, had been Sheahan's chief of staff since 2003. Sheahan pushed for Dart to replace him on the ballot after Sheahan surprised Democratic Party leaders last year with the last-minute announcement that he wouldn't seek a fifth term in office.

Dart won by comfortable margins in both the March Democratic primary and the Nov. 7 general election.

Dart said crafting a budget will be his first priority as the county grapples with a large financial deficit going into 2007. He said he would keep an open mind in negotiating with Stroger, who will be sworn in on Monday.

"I'm willing to make our office more efficient as long as it does not impact the safety or security of the people in the county," Dart said. "As anybody knows me from my years in Springfield, I'm willing to work with people and I'm very open to having frank discussions with folks about how to resolve some difficult problems. You won't hear me digging in my heels saying I won't talk, I won't negotiate."

Dart said he intends to work out of an office at 31st Street and California Avenue at the massive County Jail complex. Sheahan worked from the sheriff's administrative offices in the Daley Center in Chicago's Loop.

"The jail is 90 percent of the job," Dart said. "The day in and day out things that impact our office that require decisions, and quick ones, are from out there."

Dart was sworn in during a brief ceremony in a courtroom on the 19th floor of the Daley Center. He was surrounded by friends and family, including his father, William Dart, who worked for both Mayors Daley and was a long-time friend of former County Board President John Stroger.

Rev. Daniel J. Mallette, of Dart's parish, St. Margaret of Scotland, earned chuckles from the audience when he started his invocation by saying, "Oh dear God, you have the right to remain silent…"



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