Sheriff Dart: Preckwinkle’s Layoff Plan “Beyond Reckless”

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said his office would be eviscerated if the Preckwinkle administration goes forward with a plan to lay off up to 925 sheriff’s employees due to budget cuts if a judge doesn’t allow the county’s sweetened beverage tax to go into effect soon.

“It’s beyond reckless to ask me to lay off that amount of people,” Dart said.

A Cook County judge has temporarily blocked the county’s penny-per-ounce soda tax, and a hearing on the matter has been delayed until next week.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said the county is sending out 1,100 layoff notices due to the delay in imposing the sugary drink tax, because the county cannot collect the $17 million in monthly revenue it expected from the tax. Of those layoffs, 925 would be at the sheriff’s office, which makes up about 40 percent of the county budget.

“I believe they’re saying they’re going to have 1,100 cuts total throughout the county, and I’m going to take about 80 percent of them? I mean, that’s insane,” Dart said.

The sheriff said he doesn’t know how his office can meet the demand for 925 layoffs.

“This is just not a way to run any government,” Dart said. “Eviscerating this office is not a way thoughtful people proceed.”

Dart noted his office only recently emerged from more than 40 years of federal oversight of operations at the Cook County Jail, after meeting the staffing requirements and other improvements laid out in a 2010 court order. The sheriff said his office has a smaller overall payroll than when he first took office in 2007, even though he needed to hire additional jail staff under the consent decree.

“In spite of having to bring almost 400 extra correctional officers on to meet staffing levels, I still am 200 people less than when I started as sheriff. So, you know, I would suggest we’re doing pretty good here,” he said.

He also noted the Cook County Board — not his office — negotiates salaries for sheriff’s employees, and the board recently agreed to pay raises.

Dart said he could face the prospect of federal oversight at the jail again if he must lay off as many employees as Preckwinkle is demanding.

The layoffs Precwkinkle’s office has demanded would mean the sheriff’s office might have to shut down a courthouse, according to Dart.

“We’ll definitely have to cut down the entry points at courthouses. We’ve said we won’t be able to operate the same hours in certain areas. So we’re trying to get all those plans together here,” Dart said.

Dart said he’s made several proposals to Preckwinkle’s office to alleviate the need for layoffs.

“Some of them they’ve been on board with; other ones, they haven’t,” he said.

The sheriff said his top staff have offered to take unpaid furlough days to help cut the budget, and he has offered to implement a hiring freeze, even though he has many unfilled positions he believes are necessary to fill.

However, he said Preckwinkle’s office isn’t offering any other alternatives of its own.

“They’re coming up with zero on their side, just so we’re clear. Their side, I’m just getting the same thing, ‘Yeah, lay people off.’ Zero creativity. I could get that out of my 7-year-old,” Dart said.

A spokesman for Preckwinkle said, “The sheriff did present alternatives. Some are unworkable and involve making decisions that dramatically impact other agencies.”

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