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THE WATCHDOGS: Preckwinkle guards get raises as county lays off, furloughs workers

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle  |  Sun-Times file photo

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: November 11, 2011 2:21PM

Even as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cuts jobs, furloughs workers and talks about closing county facilities to deal with a budget crunch, she’s given pay raises to her three bodyguards, all who have been on the job for less than a year.

The top-paid member of Preckwinkle’s three-man security detail, Delwin Gadlen — a former Chicago cop who started with the county last Jan. 5 — saw his yearly salary raised on July 7 to $100,260, up from $90,290. He made about $75,000 a year with the Chicago Police Department before moving to the county payroll, records show.

Gadlen, who also was an unpaid volunteer for Preckwinkle’s successful campaign for county board president, says he was picked for Preckwinkle’s detail because of his experience in law enforcement and his master’s degree.

Preckwinkle spokeswoman Jessey Neves says political considerations were “not a determining factor” in hiring Gadlen and the other two members of the detail.

She says the raises Preckwinkle gave her bodyguards are appropriate because the detail’s “original salaries were based on a plan of [a four-member] security detail. We have, instead, remained at three individuals. Therefore, each individual is working longer hours than anticipated.”

Neves adds: “None of the security detail will be eligible for overtime.”

During the election campaign, Gadlen served as a driver “on his own time” for Preckwinkle, according to Neves.

Preckwinkle, a former Chicago City Council member, was elected last November. As county board president, she has “the right to recommend individuals for her security detail,” Neves says.

Typically, bodyguards for the county board president have been picked from the Cook County sheriff’s office, and they’ve gotten a pay raise when they move to the higher-profile job.

Gadlen and another Preckwinkle bodyguard, Kelvin Pope, came from outside county government. As a result, their salaries — and the pay raises given to them and the third member of the detail, Keith McLendon, after less than a year on the job — have added about $200,000 to the county payroll.

Pope previously was a University of Chicago police officer. His county salary is now $82,130, up from $75,077 before the raises went through in July.

McLendon was a correctional officer for the sheriff’s office, making $49,202, before joining Preckwinkle’s detail last Jan. 7. He saw his pay go up to $59,090 when he joined her staff and then, with the July raises, to $75,077.

Since joining Preckwinkle’s detail, all three bodyguards have gone through sheriff’s office training for that role, according to sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson.

Even with the raises, Preckwinkle’s security team costs taxpayers less than that of her predecessor as county board president, Todd Stroger, whom she defeated in last year’s Democratic primary. Stroger had as many as five officers in his bodyguard detail at one point, according to Patterson.

Salaries for Stroger’s security team in 2010 totaled about $310,000. Preckwinkle’s office projects that total salaries for her detail this year will be about $260,000, even with Gadlen making about $2,900 more than Stroger’s highest-paid security officer made.

Preckwinkle “maintains a comparatively modest security detail” that is “the responsible size given her long hours,” says Neves.

Cook County government is facing a budget deficit that’s now projected at $315 million. To deal with that, Preckwinkle has laid off 357 county workers and worked out a deal with organized labor for most of the 23,000-employee county workforce to take off 10 unpaid furlough days. But the county is still about $5 million short of Preckwinkle’s goal to cut $50 million this year.

Most other elected county officials don’t have bodyguards. Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has one “driver/security person,” according to a spokeswoman for her office. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has a security detail, but a spokeswoman won’t say how many bodyguards it includes. Doing without any bodyguards: Sheriff Tom Dart, Recorder of Deeds Gene Moore, Assessor Joe Berrios and Clerk David Orr.

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