Inspector General: Highway Department a patronage ‘dumping ground’
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County’s Highway Department, responsible for
557 miles of roadway, is a political patronage “dumping ground” where
do-nothing administrators thrive and shoddy record-keeping of supplies
has left the door open for theft.
That’s according to county Inspector General
Patrick Blanchard, whose conclusions were based on a survey of more than
a dozen highway department managers.
His office found that just 65 percent of bosses
felt comfortable disciplining staff while there were employees without a
job description, hurting morale and wasting taxpayer money.
In one case, there was an administrator who surfed
the net for months before being assigned a “small task,” according to
The inspector general’s office has “received
information from management and employees that the [h]ighway
[d]epartment employs a large number of unutilized or underutilized
employees,” Blanchard wrote.
One boss who took the survey said a “significant
headcount reduction” is in order considering the county is facing a $487
million budget deficit in 2011.
While Blanchard praised construction staff for
keeping up-to-date progress reports on projects, monitoring productivity
of administrative staff was almost non-existent for administrative
His report mentions that light equipment and
maintenance supplies have gone missing because of shoddy record-keeping
and that there’s “credible evidence” of theft. A criminal investigation
is ongoing in one case.
Blanchard recommends an audit of the 350-staff
highway department, which is under the authority of newly-minted Cook
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
She has already announced that she intends to conduct such audits.