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Highway Dept. won't obey auditor's recommendation

Friday, May 01, 2009
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

The Cook County Highway Department, which until April 9 put an employee with a lengthy arrest record in charge of people's personnel files, is refusing to adopt the recommended practices of the county auditor, the auditor says.

Auditor Laura Berman has submitted a report to county commissioners detailing that the department is refusing to process cash payments in a manner she has recommended.

Highway department officials say adopting Berman's recommendations would inconvenience contractors and make them walk across the street to pay for bid documents and maps instead of collecting the money in its office.

"The small number of checks that are received and the low value of the check amounts are handled efficiently in the Highway Department," wrote the Superintendent of Highways Rupert Graham in response to the county auditor.

Berman noted the loose manner in which the money is collected will only make more work for her office as it tries to monitor the transactions.

The highway department was the same department that employed Tony Cole, a hire of Cook County Board Todd Stroger, and gave him access to employees' personnel files as a human resources administrator. Cole had a lengthy arrest record, including a conviction for writing bad checks.

He was fired after Stroger's office claimed it didn't know the full extent of his arrest record. However, administrators later admitted they had possessed for months an FBI report detailing his true record. The county CFO, Donna Dunnings, later resigned after it became public she had paid to bail Cole out of jail on domestic charges. It was after those charges that Cole was promoted to the highway department job.

At the same time the county is refusing to adopt the recommended practices with its money collection in the highway department, it is seeking legislation from the state that would continue its level of funding for the highway department.

Stroger is sponsoring a resolution for board consideration that urges the Illinois legislature to adjust legislation that keeps a certain level of gas tax funding going exclusively to Cook County because it is the only county in the state with a population above 1 million. However, other counties are close to reaching that mark and the county would soon have to share those funds with them if the legislation is not adjusted to read "3 million."

Cook County spokesman Gene Mullins, who accompanied Dunnings on a trip to jail to bail out Cole on one occasion, was asked for a copy of Burman's report Thursday and promised to get back to a reporter but did not. He also did not return a phone call seeking comment on the report once it was obtained through other channels.

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