Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle sailed to office on a mantra of reform. So it's no wonder that she's undertaking a complete overhaul of the President's Office of Employment and Training in her first year on the job.
POET, which has been rocked by repeated scandals and mismanagement in the past several years, will now be known as "Cook County Works," Preckwinkle announced at a press conference Tuesday. It will also have significantly fewer responsibilities -- including ending direct oversight of trainees -- and about half as many employees.
Scroll down for video of the press conference.
Trouble began to surface for POET in 2005, when Shirley Glover, the program's financial manager, was arrested for siphoning around $180,000 from the agency. She was appointed to run POET's finances by former Board President John Stroger's patronage chiefs, despite having ten prior felony convictions; Glover was sentenced to four years in prison.
Three years later, in 2008, three ex-POET employees were charged in a separate scheme after allegedly embezzling more than $2 million from the program and various banks.
The program is also known as a dumping ground for patronage jobs, where Cook County officials send those who they owe favors to sit in front of desks and earn paychecks. The straightforward Preckwinkle said as much at the press conference Tuesday: "You know, I think POET was one of the places where people who had political connections were placed without regard to their competence," she said, according to WBEZ.
That explains why Preckwinkle is cutting staff at the new Cook County Works, cuts that are expected to save $4 million a year. FOX Chicago reports that she found abundant overlap and job descriptions that didn't match their titles and salaries.
Preckwinkle has appointed Karin Norington-Reaves to head up the new iteration of the job-training program.
Watch Preckwinkle and Norington-Reaves discuss Cook County Works: