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Stroger defends hiring at juvenile center

Friday, September 09, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Coen

A defensive Cook County Board President John Stroger said Thursday that he rejects allegations he has filled the county's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center with unqualified patronage hires who allow youths housed there to languish in disturbing conditions.

At a marathon County Board meeting marked by shouted accusations and counter-accusations, Stroger told commissioners seeking an independent audit of the facility to "stop beating up on my personnel" and denied he has dumped political "hacks" into the facility where some 450 juveniles are housed.

The audit proposal, sponsored by Commissioners Forrest Claypool Larry Suffredin, was sent to a committee for a hearing as soon as Sept. 21.

Stroger repeatedly insisted during the meeting and afterward that recent Chicago Tribune editorials stemming from an editorial board investigation were wrong in saying he has placed underqualified people or political cronies in charge of the center.

When asked if he expected the hearing of the board's Family Court and Juvenile Detention Center Committee to turn up no problems, Stroger replied, "I didn't say that and I haven't inferred that.

"There have got to be some problems, but to say that all these people are bad people, not trained properly, political stooges and hacks, I resent that."

The editorial board investigation found that at least 7 percent of the 480 employees at the center have criminal records. It is a woefully disorganized, dirty and at times abusive facility that Stroger has used as a patronage dumping ground, the investigation found.

Claypool and Suffredin, who also called for an audit of the troubled Provident Hospital in the same resolution, wound up split on whether the allegations should first be heard by the committee.

Claypool said problems at the center and the hospital demand immediate action. The hospital's former chief financial officer has been indicted in connection with a fraud scheme, and the Illinois Department of Public Health has found problems with the way the facility is run.

"We've had two major sets of allegations against two major institutions that serve the most vulnerable people in our county: poor patients at Provident Hospital and young men and women in the juvenile detention center who deserve a second chance in life, who deserve to be tutored and educated and put on the straight and narrow rather than potentially abused and potentially misdirected," Claypool said.

Suffredin, who voted in favor of the committee hearing, said Jerry Robinson, the detention center's new superintendent, deserves a chance to explain the difficulties at the facility.

"I think there are some serious issues," he said. "I don't know who's made all the allegations."

Robinson was identified in the Tribune investigation as having limited experience with youth or in corrections and as being a friend of Stroger's chief of staff. He was hired over more qualified candidates, according the watchdog John Howard Association.

"I don't think John Howard was elected to run this government," Stroger said, defending the Robinson hiring after the board meeting.

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