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'A lot' of county vehicles not used officially: Quigley

Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County officials want to know who is driving all 2,000 of the county government's cars, who takes them home at night, how many are leased or owned, and what shape they are in.

"It's my belief that right now there are a whole lot of county cars in Wisconsin and Michigan delivering groceries," said county board member Michael Quigley (D-Chicago). "I get calls all the time: 'There are county workers using the cars for personal use. You see 'em at the grocery stores over the weekend.' "

Board member Pete Gosslin (R-Glenview) said he has been trying unsuccessfully during his six years on the board to get answers about the county's scattered auto fleet.

"Every meeting, we approve the purchase of another 10 cars, another 20 cars. I say: 'Where are the old cars going? What criteria were used for these ones?' " Gosslin said.

Gosslin and other commissioners balked at the last board meeting as they approved new SUVs for Treasurer Maria Pappas' office and two other county departments.

"We want more control over vehicles and how they're used," County Board President John Stroger said, pointing specifically to the sheriff's department. "Every police officer has a vehicle. Sometimes they're not used. They go on vacation and their cars sit unused."

Each of Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan's 500 patrol officers gets a squad car that their union contract allows them to take home with them at night, said Sheahan spokesman Bill Cunningham.

The sheriff's office has the bulk of the county cars -- 1,069, Cunningham said. That includes 250 buses and vans for transporting inmates and jurors. Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine's office has 309 cars.

Board members were upset to learn from a Sun-Times story in February that 33 state's attorney vehicles were gathering dust in a parking lot outside Criminal Court.

"We don't have an inventory -- that's how the state's attorney's office got caught with all those cars sitting out there," Quigley said.

It's unclear who else has all the county cars. That's what Stroger, Daley and the other commissioners say they'd like to know.

A check of the two-block stretch of Lake Street closest to the county and sheriff's offices Monday afternoon found 15 sheriff's and other county cars parked there in spaces intended for police vehicles only. Those are mainly cars used by process servers, Cunningham said.

Goslin would like to see the county follow the city's lead and privatize vehicle maintenance. Quigley would like to see one pool of cars for the county, and any employee who needs one signs it out. He would like all of them to have the county logo on the side so they would be conspicuous if taken for personal use.

Pappas has only three cars and County Assessor Jim Houlihan has one van. Offices under Stroger and Clerk of the Court Dorothy Brown also have a number of cars.

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