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Seven county workers suspended from scandal-plagued jobs program

Friday, February 04, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

The new head of Cook County’s scandal-plagued job training program suspended at least seven employees this week amid an investigation into “official misconduct.”

Karin Norington-Reaves, director of the Cook County Board President’s Office of Employment Training — known as POET — suspended staffers on Monday and Tuesday, including a manager related to a former POET employee sent to prison for stealing more than $100,000 from the program.

While one official described the current investigation as tied to the $14 million program’s finances, Norington-Reaves said it would be inappropriate to discuss details.

“I’m not at liberty to comment on the nature” of the investigation, she said. “The issue is there have been allegations of misconduct.”

Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard confirmed his office seized “evidence” earlier this week from POET’s offices, but said county ordinance prohibits him from discussing the details of the probe.

Brendolyn Hart-Glover, the $72,500-a-year manager of POET’s field operations, confirmed she was among those suspended, but says she’s done nothing wrong. Hart-Glover said she was suddenly plucked from her downtown Chicago office by Norington-Reaves and the county’s head of Human Resources, Jonathan Rothstein, on Monday. She said she was told she was being suspended indefinitely for a “major cause infraction.

“They wouldn’t tell me why,” Hart-Glover told the Sun-Times. “All I was told was that I was put on emergency suspension.”

“I’ve worked for the county for 20 years, and I’ve never even been written up,” said Hart-Glover, who began working for POET in 1992.

Hart-Glover is the sister-in-law of Shirley Glover, a former Cook County financial manager who was given prison time after pleading guilty to stealing more than $100,000 from the job-training program she oversaw.

Hart-Glover said most of the other employees suspended this week work for her and almost all have ties to the Oak Forest field office, which administers job training programs in the southwest suburbs. She questions whether her suspension is tied to an ongoing state audit.

Colleagues have told her that the Inspector General’s office seized records earlier this week stemming from a 2009 summer youth jobs program.

In August 2009, the state cut off the county’s access to grant money that funded the summer youth job training program. That order, from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, came on the heels of POET allegedly failing to pay some of the 16- to 24-year-old employees in the summer jobs program.

Before taking the job in January, Norington-Reaves was a deputy director at the state Commerce Department — an agency that has been a frequent critic of the Cook County program and actually threatened to take over POET last year, after revealing the program returned $8.4 million to the state between 2003 and 2008. Those millions, the state argued, could have provided job training for 5,000 south and west suburban residents.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has vowed to overhaul the troubled jobs training program under her authority — particularly at a time when the county’s unemployment rate is 8.9 percent.

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