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Cook juvenile center racks up huge overtime

Thursday, September 15, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Coen

More than 100 employees at the troubled Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center were paid overtime 30 percent above their normal salaries last year, with a handful getting an extra 70 percent, county records show. Nearly $4 million in overtime was paid to center employees in 2004. Though surprising, the records also show that the amount paid out was smaller than in the previous year, when the center paid out almost $6 million in overtime. The center's employees use a collection of clipboards to record how much time they spend on the job, county officials said, a system that has drawn criticism. Of the 481 people employed at the center, 107 were paid 30 percent above their salary, and more that 25 were paid at least 50 percent above their salary. The clipboards were present on an entrance table at the center this week, but Supt. Jerry Robinson said a new system will be installed in the coming weeks. Last week, the Cook County Board approved a contract with Analytical Science Corp. of Crestwood. The company will replace the clipboards and a punch clock that employees say broke some time ago with a biometric system that will scan fingerprints as employees come and go. Robinson said he is optimistic that the new system will cut down on any possible overtime irregularities and questionable salaries. As a group, food service workers averaged 20 percent above their salaries last year, and those supervising counselors made an extra 35 percent, records show. Four counselors who receive an annual salary of $48,000 put in for additional overtime pay totaling at least $30,000 in 2003 and again in 2004, according to the records. Another counselor, with an annual salary of $53,000, put in for a total of $81,391.35 in overtime pay during that two-year period. Two custodial workers who make $31,000 annually collected more than $18,000 in overtime in 2003 and 2004. A nurse with a salary of $71,000 collected more than $46,000 in overtime in 2004, according to the records. Overtime is just one issue facing the center, which houses about 450 juvenile offenders. Some county commissioners have called for an independent audit of the center. Among other things, they want to know if Cook County Board President John Stroger has filled the juvenile facility with patronage hires who aren't qualified to handle the young residents. In addition, a recent federal study stated that the juvenile detention center leads the nation in reported sexual misconduct by its staff against residents. Also, a Tribune editorial board investigation found that at least 7 percent of center staff members have criminal records. Commissioners allied with Stroger put off the audit proposal at a County Board meeting Sept. 8, sending it to the Family Court & Juvenile Detention Center Committee instead. Robinson and other officials are expected to testify when the committee hears the proposal Thursday. Stroger has said he rejects the idea that the staff of the facility or the supervisors are his political hacks. "It's not fair, and it's not anybody's name that's associated with that, but my name," Stroger said.


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