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Inspector General: Highway Department a patronage ‘dumping ground’

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
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 report.

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 staff.

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.

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