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Forest Preserve watchman accused of growing pot outside county home

Friday, September 23, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times

A Cook County Forest Preserve “resident watchman” whose duties include stopping people from growing or smoking pot in the woods has been arrested — accused of growing pot in the woods.

The carefully cultivated cannabis was found growing near the forest preserve-owned house where Cynthia Wojtanowski, 45, lives at Tampier South Woods forest preserve at 135th and Wolf Road in southwest suburban Orland Park.

In exchange for a steeply discounted fee to live in the house, Wojtanowski was charged with clearing wood, removing snow, keeping an eye out for fires and reporting criminal activity, says Forest Preserve Supt. Arnold Randall.

Even reporting people smoking or growing marijuana?

“Yes, that, too,” Randall tells the Sun-Times.

Now Wojtanowski and her live-in boyfriend are each charged with marijuana possession and production, Randall said.

It began with a tip from the public this week.

“We were given a tip by a member of the public to our police force, which we encourage and appreciate, that there was marijuana being grown in the forest preserve in this particular area,” Randall said.

Forest preserve police quickly found the crop.

“We discovered cannabis on the grounds of the forest preserve district — in the vicinity of the home,” Randall said.

Randall didn’t know exactly how much marijuana was found. Asked whether the pot was being sold on forest preserve property or elsewhere, he said: “The amount that was being grown seemed like it was more than for an individual’s use. We do know there was definitely enough [marijuana] there that it may have been more than just for personal use.”

Details on whether the couple was jailed and court information weren’t immediately available.

Wojtanowski has been served an eviction notice and has 30 days to leave, Randall said. She has been summoned to a disciplinary hearing on Monday that could lead to her firing.

“She acknowledged she knew there was marijuana growing there. We have some strong belief that she had some responsibility for the marijuana being in that location,” Randall said.

He said the investigation continues.

Wojtanowski, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has worked at the forest preserve since 1996, and began serving as a “resident watchman” in 2004. That’s in addition to her duties as an $56,468 administrative assistant for the forest preserve, ordering supplies and tracking repairs for vehicles and other maintenance machinery.

The forest preserve did not provide the fee she is paying to live in the forest preserve home.

The forest preserve “resident watchman” program — which puts workers in homes throughout the system — has long been viewed as a reward system for political patronage workers.

But Randall — who just took the helm less than a year ago under newly elected Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — said the program is being overhauled and will include background checks on all adults living in the homes.

“It’s [a] slap in the face — you’ve got a resident, a government employee entrusted with a taxpayer-subsidized home, and here she’s accused of growing marijuana,” said Jeff Tobolski, who serves in dual roles as a County Board and Forest Preserve District commissioner.

Tobolski commended the forest preserve for moving quickly on the case and has asked for a full accounting, including the number and addresses of the forest preserve homes as well as the occupants.

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