Cook County Forest Preserves: Will new management continue the “same old, same old, corroupt Chicago politics”?

November 10, 2012

Part 5 – Historical Perspective:

On December 15, 2 010, Arnold Randall was named as the new superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserve by Toni Preckwinkle to replace Steven Bylina, a seven-year veteran of the job. Prior to his release by Preckwinkle, Bylina’s had received good reviews for his work from commissioners.

Following is the path Toni Preckwinkle took on her way to become president of the Cook County Board. With the position came Preckwinkle’s authority to fire and to replace Cook County Forest Preserve officials with those she favored.

Toni Preckwinkle was first elected to the Chicago City Council in 1991 to represent Chicago’s 4th ward. She held this position for 19 years until elected President of the Cook County Board on November 21, 2010, the Executive Branch of Cook County government.

Preckwinkle’s election as President came about in the wake of a scandal that took place in the summer of 2010 that included worker theft, employee sex and underage drinking during the preceding summer at a Cook County Forest Preserve District aquatic center (Cermak Aquatic Center in Lyons) under her predecessor, Todd Stroger, who at the time was in charge of county government and the forest preserve district.

Calling the forest preserve district “an area of county government that has historically been overlooked,” Toni Preckwinkle vowed, upon assuming the presidency, to take measures that would reflect a commitment to a new standard of oversight and accountability.”

Regarding Toni Perkwinkle’s selection of Arnold Randall’s to be the new superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserve, it is likely that Perkwinkle knew Randall before she was elected president of the Cook Count Board in November of 2010, as Perkwinkle immediately appointed Randall to her policy and transition team.

Officially sworn in as superintendent on December 12, 2010, Arnold Randall was charged by Perkwinkle to develop a plan that would encourage more public involvement in the forest preserves, a task Randall had already been engaged in as a member of Perkwinkle’s policy and transition teams.

Arnold Randall promised to hold down costs, while improving the forest preserves by taking advantage of willing volunteers from groups like Friends of the Forest Preserves.

Suggested at the same time by President Perkwinkle was the possible elimination of the Forest Preserve Police Department as a cost-saving measure, but not something she would work on right away.

Interesting to note is that eight years prior to 2010, Abdon M. Pallasch’s, in a Daily Herald article dated August 2, 2002, had this to say about the Fire Preserve Police Department:

“The 151-member police force–the state’s 16th largest–has been ridiculed as The Tree Police and an unnecessary $7.5 million-a-year luxury by its critics.”

On April, 2011, four months after the official appointment of Arnold Randall by Perkwinkle as superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserves, although sweeping reform changes and measures were announced in a joint news conference, targeted only was the kind of behavior uncovered by the Office of the Inspector General during the prior summer at the Cermak Family Aquatic Center.

Among key reforms:

1. New cash management practices and a new credit card system;
2. Additional security cameras to be installed at all polls;
3. Wireless access for management to supervise swimming pool activity;
4. New employee training that includes ethics training.

Despite Superintendent Randall’s commitment to keep costs down when named superintendent in December of 2010, Randall, who was by now finishing his first year as Cook County Forest Preserve superintendent, and only a few weeks after a not-so-positive Perkwinkle-mandated field audit of the Cook County Forest Preserve was released, proposed adding 16 new full-time jobs and 20 to 30 new part-time positions, mostly at the maintenance and grounds keeping level, in October of 2011,

Daily Herald reporter, Jake Griffin, was told by Superintendent Randall that taxpayers can afford to add more bodies to its roster of nearly 500 Cook County Nature Preserve employees because the Preserve has been operating at a surplus since 2003.

Is this a valid reason to add staff in these poor economic times? How do taxpayers know if the added people are not just more politician friends or relatives?

THE BOTTOM LINE: Given that Chicago politicians control and dominate the Cook County Forest Preserve Operation, will taxpayers ever see the elimination of patronage, waste and inefficiency?

Only time will tell, but it seems highly doubtful. Chicago politicians engaging in “machine” politics have not gained a reputation for clean and honest dealings with the public as staying in power and money supersedes all.

Part 6 will evaluate the reforms and measures taken since Toni Perkwinkle was elected president and Arnold Randall was appointed superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserves in December of 2010.


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