When Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle shifted her security detail to the forest preserves police after a scandal last year that cost the head of the unit his job, she gave pay raises to her three “security specialist operators,” records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
One of her officers got a pay boost of more than 9%, the records show.
The Cook County government boss also had given raises to her detail in late 2014, when the guards who protect her were moved from the Cook County sheriff’s police to the county’s homeland security and emergency management office.
Two members of Preckwinkle’s security detail got pay raises last year that put them on par with what forest preserves police commanders are paid — about $110,000 annually — though they aren’t supervisors.
The third went from $113,000 a year to $114,878.
The officers’ duties didn’t change, and raises weren’t handed out across the forest preserves police department, records show.
The details on the raises:
• Rodney Montgomery got the biggest raise — 9.65%, putting his salary at $110,396, up from $100,680. Montgomery had been hired for Preckwinkle’s security detail at a salary of $97,607 in May 2017. He moved there from the forest preserves police, where he was making $54,000 a year and had been working since 2009.
• Philip Mason got a 4.8% raise, to $110,396, up from $105,343. Mason has been part of Preckwinkle’s detail since November 2013, when he was making $75,017.
• Leesandra Rios-Torres got a 1% raise, to $114,878 from $113,740. On Preckwinkle’s security team since 2011, Rios-Torres was being paid $84,556 a year at the end of 2014, when the detail was shifted to Preckwinkle’s control.
Preckwinkle, who declined interview requests, chose not to move the officers back to the sheriff’s police.
That agency is under the authority of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the elected official who had publicly feuded with Preckwinkle over the budget the county provides to his office.
Like the homeland security office, the Cook County Forest Preserves District, including the forest preserves police, is under the county board president’s control.
Dart had asked for the December 2014 transfer of control of the detail, removing it from his budget, saying those officers reported not to him but directly to the board president, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.
Preckwinkle spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny didn’t respond to questions about why the detail was moved to the forest preserves police or why the officers were given raises. She responded to requests for an interview with Preckwinkle by saying the county board president “doesn’t have availability at this time.”
Preckwinkle initiated the transfer of her protection unit last year about five months after the county’s inspector general, Patrick Blanchard, said he was investigating why campaign materials for Preckwinkle and other county officials were on the front seat of a county car sometimes used by one of her drivers when the vehicle was found in a ditch, with its tires slashed, in Lemont in 2016.
A dry-cleaning receipt with the name of Delwin Gadlen — who was Preckwinkle’s “chief of executive protection” at the time — was in the car when it was found.
County rules dictate that taxpayer resources not be used for political purposes.
Gadlen was fired from his $128,508-a-year job in November 2018.
He was succeeded last Aug. 2 by Theresa Odum, a retired Chicago Police Department sergeant who’s being paid $116,000 a year.
Odum had retired in 2017 after 26 years with the police department, where she was paid about $105,600 annually. From April 30, 2018, until she took the Preckwinkle job, she was working as a $60,000-a-year investigator for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff, handling “executive protection for the state’s attorney.”
According to Blanchard, Preckwinkle’s office asked for the shift to the forest preserves police in an Aug. 10, 2018, memo to his office. His approval is required whenever there are any changes proposed for the forest preserves district’s list of “exempt” positions. People can be hired for those jobs for political reasons.
Preckwinkle didn’t give a reason for the shift, Blanchard says. He gave his approval on Aug. 17, 2018.
The transfers took effect on Sept. 1, 2018.
Two months later, the Cook County Board passed its 2019 budget of $5.9 billion, relying on revenue growth to cover what otherwise would have been an $82 million budget gap.
During the 2018 budget year, hundreds of Cook County employees had been laid off and other vacancies were frozen to cover a $200 million budget gap after Preckwinkle’s sweetened-beverage tax was repealed after a public outcry against it.
Since Preckwinkle moved her security officers to homeland security in 2014, they have been exempt from the federal Shakman decree barring politics from being considered in hiring or promotions. That allowed her to hire anyone she wants as her guards.
The county was freed from that order and federal oversight in October 2018, though the county still maintains an exempt list and hiring and promotions are monitored by the inspector general.
Preckwinkle was sued in 2012 by three members of her predecessor Todd Stroger’s security detail, whom she’d replaced, bringing in a new team headed by Gadlen. He’d been a Chicago cop and a volunteer driver for her during her election campaign before being hired to work for the county. The lawsuit was settled for a total of $190,000.