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Ex-alderman Shirley Coleman on, off, then back on county payroll

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

It was a series of moves that saw a former Chicago alderman go from having a job on the Cook County payroll to losing it to getting another county job — all in the span of less than two months.

First, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle fired Shirley Coleman, a former colleague on the Chicago City Council. Then, she rehired her — though at a cut in pay, records and interviews show.

Coleman had worked since 2009 as an administrative assistant with the county’s Office of Adoptions and Child Custody Advocacy. Then, on Feb. 9, Preckwinkle eliminated Coleman’s $75,828-a-year job.

It was nothing personal, Preckwinkle aides say. With the county facing money troubles, they say, Coleman’s job was just a victim of belt-tightening.

Then, in another turn of fortunes, Coleman was back on the county payroll April 4. Preckwinkle rehired her, this time to serve as a $68,000-a-year deputy in the Cook County Board secretary’s office.

Coleman’s new duties include managing and editing agendas, legislation and other documents for county board meetings, as well as overseeing payroll and benefits for the commissioners and their staff.

“We brought my former colleague on,” says Preckwinkle, adding in a brief interview last week that Coleman would be filling one of several vacant jobs in the office.

The particular spot she’s filling had been vacant for some time but was filled after another staffer in the secretary’s office resigned at the end of February, according to Preckwinkle spokeswoman Jessey Neves. With the secretary’s office taking on expanded duties, Neves says, the deputy’s job needed to be filled.

“They created this job, and I took it,” says Coleman, who is also an ordained minister.

Preckwinkle and Coleman were first elected to their City Council seats in 1991. They were among four African-American aldermen who fought — and won — a battle to boost the number of minority-owned companies involved in the construction of a new campus for Kennedy-King College, which opened in 2007 in the heart of impoverished Englewood.

Coleman was in the headlines in 2002, when she admitted that gang members had worked on her campaign and helped her win election that year.

She made the news again in the run-up to the 2007 race, when she and a real-estate developer were sued in federal court by California investors who said they’d been scammed out of more than $500,000 on a deal for a proposed development in Englewood, part of the alderman’s ward. Coleman has denied the allegations. The case is still pending, according to a lawyer for the investors.

Coleman ended up losing the 2007 election.

Preckwinkle left the City Council last year, resigning her 4th Ward seat after beating incumbent Todd Stroger in the Democratic primary race for Cook County Board president.

After winning the general election in November, Preckwinkle took office facing the daunting challenge of needing to erase an estimated half-billion-dollar budget deficit. The resulting cuts meant that more than 400 county workers lost their jobs. Most of those still part of the 24,000-member county government workforce must take 10 unpaid days off this year, in another budget-trimming move.

But some jobs still need to be filled, says Preckwinkle.

“We had several positions in the secretary’s office that had not been filled,” she says. “And I think we filled two of them.”

Neves, her spokeswoman, says Coleman was “qualified” for the job but declines to say whether anyone else was considered for the job or what the qualifications were.

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