South Suburban Mosquito Abatement District is in need of overhaul

An inspector general’s report is filled with allegations ranging from unqualified leadership to questionable hiring. It’s time to clean house.

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The sign in front of the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District headquarters located at 15500 Dixie Highway in Harvey. Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

The Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General seeks the resignation of the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District board. The board should indeed step down.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Chicago’s south suburbs have had more than their share of shady and inept governance in recent decades, from the Dixmoor Park District selling and handing out 80 police badges to non-cops 20 years ago, to the ever-frequent shenanigans in the city of Harvey.

And now, add the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District to that list.

A new report from Cook County’s Office of the Independent Inspector General found the abatement agency inadequately conducted mosquito surveillance, underspent on insecticides and failed to cooperate, as it should have, with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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The IG, as the Sun-Times’ Tom Schuba and Mitch Dudek reported, also found that district Operations Supt. Janet Rogers couldn’t answer basic questions about her job, such as mosquito control operations and insecticide use.

She told the IG that a biologist and chemist handled most of the operations. But the agency’s website includes Rogers on its list of “head mosquito annihilators … staff members who are responsible for the mosquito eradication.”

On top of that, the IG also reported conflict-riddled hiring practices — shenanigans, really — at the agency. But more on that later.

The district is among the region’s four mosquito abatement agencies, and though its $4.5 million budget is relatively small, its task of keeping 340 square miles safe from disease-spreading mosquitoes and biting insects is substantial.

Given that importance, the agency must have people with the right background and qualifications in charge. South suburban residents deserve as much — and it’s the job of Cook County officials to make sure it happens.

‘Not qualified’

The county began forming mosquito abatement districts as early as 1927, as population began spreading outward into damp and wooded areas where insects — particularly those that transmitted diseases — were in abundance.

Founded in 1956, the South Cook County district is the largest of the four agencies, but with the least-qualified manager — Rogers — according to the county inspector general.

Managers at the other three districts had “extensive education or experience in mosquito control” prior to being selected for their posts, the report said. An IDPH worker felt more qualified candidates were overlooked for the position Rogers holds.

“I don’t know what she’s doing there,” the employee is quoted as saying in the report. “She is not qualified for the position.”

How Rogers got the job also raised the eyebrows of IG investigators, and with good reason. Here’s why: At two separate 2017 board meetings, the district’s president, Charles Givines, made motions to hire Rogers. Neither motion was ever seconded, as required.

Then, Lynette Stokes — who at the time was a vice president at South Suburban College — was sworn in as a board member in December 2017.

And just three days after Stokes joined the five-member panel, she immediately helped Givines and another board member vote in a resolution to hire Rogers with the title of a $42,000 public relations specialist for the agency.

And get this: While all this was happening, Rogers — who is also board president of Harvey School District 152 — voted to approve Givines for a custodial services consulting contract at Harvey schools. And it was Rogers’ husband, Harvey Ald. Tyrone Rogers — he also sat on the school board at the time — who introduced the motion favoring Givines.

Meanwhile, Lynette Stokes, the new abatement district board member who helped vote in Rogers, went from vice president to president of South Suburban College in April 2018. The job came with a pay bump from $134,629 a year to $194,021.

Among those who voted in favor of Stokes becoming president of the college: Janet Rogers, who sits on the South Suburban College board as well.

Resignation recommended

Givines and an attorney for the district dispute the IG’s findings.

Meanwhile, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle doesn’t have the legal authority to fire the abatement district board because the agency is a separate legal taxing body.

But the county inspector general is on target with the recommendation that Preckwinkle decline to renew the expiring terms of district board members and “explore their voluntary resignation in the interests of the district.”

With all the alleged chicanery underfoot, it might also be worth the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office taking a look at the situation as well.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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