New Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle lately has been saying that Sheriff Thomas Dart needs to do more to control abuse of family and medical leave in his office.
In a round of visits to newspaper editorial pages last week, Preckwinkle pointed out that every day one out of every five staffers in the sheriff's office takes off work under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act, and that it would save $36 million if Dart could cut that in half.
Preckwinkle also said that the sheriff had 39 percent of the county employees on medical leave and 40 percent of the workman's comp cases, even though he has only 28 percent of the work force.
The context is Preckwinkle's efforts to present a trimmed-down budget that eliminates a $487 million deficit.
But this isn't a problem that has been a secret. It's probably worth pointing out that early last December Dart himself talked about his problem with errant employees and what he is doing about it.
"I thought I was going to be able to sweep the decks ... of some people who were chronic abusers of medical time," he said in early December. "Where it was just outrageous coincidence, every Monday they're sick. After having had Saturday and Sunday off."
Dart said he sent investigators to catch abusers at their houses with a video camera, only to find that he subsequently lost cases at arbitration because the sheriff's "general orders" didn't sufficiently spell out the rules. That's been fixed, he said.
Anyone trying to find ways to balance the county's budget naturally is going to look at abuse of family and medical leave. But like so many efforts to get bloated spending under control, it will take a sustained effort, and the savings don't immediately go to the bottom line.
"It is trickier than I had ever envisioned," Dart said.
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