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Forest preserve resident staff will have to fight fires, use chainsaws

Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Forest Preserve District staffers who live in deeply discounted government housing in the preserves in exchange for cleaning up and snow-plowing the grounds will also have to report any illegal activity, know how to work a chainsaw and even put out a fire under plans approved Wednesday.

In addition, their rent is going to go up, though it will still be below market rate. And their leases — rather than be open-ended —will now be for two-year terms.

The overhaul comes after a “resident watchman” was fired last fall for allegedly using the backyard of her government-leased home to farm marijuana.

Cook County Forest Preserve Supt. Arnold Randall had announced last October most of his plans to revamp the forest preserve’s resident watchmen program — open to existing forest preserve staff who wants to take on added duties in the preserves in exchange for the discounted housing — but the Cook County Forest Preserve board approved them during a Wednesday meeting.

The measure also allows Randall to cement minimum requirements for resident staffers that he’s been talking about: a valid driver’s license, a supervisor’s reference and training and certification in chain-saw use and fire safety.

Plans for overhauling the “watchmen program” had been in the pipeline before last fall’s arrest of Cynthia Wojtanowski, 45, who was charged with growing marijuana near a Tampier South Woods preserve rental home in suburban Orland Park.

Wojtanowski was fired from her $56,468 job as an administrative assistant for the forest preserve district and evicted from her forest preserve home.

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