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Is a new sheriff coming to your town?

Friday, April 13, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Better Government Association

What does the future hold for the unincorporated areas of Cook County, those “pockets” of suburbia sitting outside the borders of any municipality?

Board President Toni Preckwinkle has a task force exploring that question, with a report due out soon.

But it’s already clear Preckwinkle wants to shed as much of this territory as possible, with adjoining communities annexing the land and taking over services now provided by county government.

“Saving money isn’t the only goal,” her spokeswoman relays. “Annexation also allows for local control over local decisions, rather than the [county] attempting to centrally administer services to a number of disparate geographic areas.”

But what would happen to the Cook County sheriff’s police who now patrol the unincorporated patches?

Union officials worry that Preckwinkle’s people may propose disbanding or dramatically shrinking the police force, with municipal police agencies assuming duties in areas their towns annex, and the county contracting with municipal police agencies to cover areas that remain unincorporated.

But Sheriff Tom Dart has another idea. If streamlining is the true goal, he tells us, why not have the sheriff’s office assume policing duties in suburbs rather than retreat. There are more than 100 municipalities in Cook County, most with their own police forces. That’s a lot of bureaucracy, Dart said.

He envisions the sheriff’s police playing an increasingly important role for communities worried about bottom-lines, evolving into more of a “metropolitan” police department.

Maybe that means communities contract with the sheriff’s police to handle lock-up duties, he said. Or the night shift. Or patrols in certain spots. Or investigations. Or everything.

Dart’s agency already is doing some of this a la carte — at the request of town leaders — but he thinks there’s more that could and should be done.

The term “metropolitan . . . scares people because they think ‘Big government taking over,’ ” Dart said.

But he said that’s not the aim, and he won’t try to force collaborations.

If towns want to keep their own departments, “God love ’em.”

CPS math adds up for school attorney

As Chicago Public Schools administrators cry poor this round of teacher negotiations, it’s worth recalling that CPS higher-ups seem to find money when they want to.

Enter the school system’s general counsel, Patrick Rocks.

In late 2010, the Board of Education approved a $13,000 raise for Rocks, boosting his salary to more than $182,000, even though his title and duties did not change.

As noteworthy as the amount was the timing: the hike came at a time of transition — then-CEO Ron Huberman was in the process of leaving — and amid a pay freeze for non-union personnel.

“The Board of Education decided it,” Rocks told us. “They didn’t consult with me before it.”

But, he added, “I did not turn it down.”

Mary Richardson-Lowry was board president at the time. She doesn’t “recall the specifics, but I was supportive. . . . That was also a time when the district had a high degree of flight.”

A public-sector trifecta

Sean McDermott is a triple-dipper — with three government gigs that, altogether, pay him around $150,000 a year.

McDermott makes $102,516 at the Cook County Department of Public Health. He pockets $40,900 as Lyons Township’s highway commissioner and $7,200 as Countryside alderman, according to public records.

Down the road, if certain criteria are met, McDermott stands to collect two public pensions.

Then-Lyons Township Supervisor Steve Landek recommended McDermott for the highway post in 2010. Around that time Landek also held three government posts. (He’s since left the township, but remains state senator and Bridgeview mayor.)

“You call it triple dipping,” McDermott said. “I call it a commitment to my community.”

The customer is always . . .

A shout-out goes to the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk employee working a customer counter at the Daley Center the other day. When a patron ran out of ink and asked to borrow a pen, the employee showed herself to be a true public servant, at least in the “Chicago Way.”

“No, that isn’t gonna work,” the employee said, before turning and walking away.

A follow-up question: When are tax dollars “gonna work” a little harder in that agency?

Send us your tips and join the BGA through Contact BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw via or (312) 427-8330.

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