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posted: 10/22/2012 3:42 PM

Cook County circuit clerk candidates spar over pay, perks

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  • Dorothy Brown

      Dorothy Brown

  • Diane Shapiro

      Diane Shapiro

 
 

Diane Shapiro, Republican candidate for the clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, says she'll work without pay if elected.

Incumbent Democrat Dorothy Brown insists she doesn't have that option, saying she does not currently get a public pension, though she will receive one upon retirement.

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Shapiro, a retired Cook County adult probation officer from Chicago, says if the law allows, she will forgo the clerk's $105,000 annual salary and live on her pension of about $50,000 per year, with a 3 percent annual cost-of-living increase. A Republican committeeman for Chicago's 44th ward, Shapiro retired in 2009 after 30 years of working in Cook County government, including for the recorder of deeds and the sheriff's department.

"I don't have a pension," said Brown, a three-term incumbent from Chicago who also worked as general auditor for the Chicago Transit Authority from 1991 to 2000.

Brown, 59, will be eligible for a pension down the road, with the amount to be determined by her salary, years of service and age. In response to the Daily Herald's Freedom of Information Act request about the pension Brown would receive if she were to retire after next month's election, a representative from the Cook County Pension Fund indicated that because Brown has not applied to receive an annuity from the fund, there has been no determination of her eligibility for benefits.

Brown says the court clerk's salary ranks among the lowest for the elected heads of Cook County departments and says considering the number of hours she puts in as clerk, she's probably "working for minimum wage."

The court clerk receives the same pay as Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, who Brown says has a staff one-sixth the size of hers. And it's $20,000 less than the salary of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who Brown says supervises about one-third the number of employees she does.

Brown oversees about 2,100 people who are responsible for keeping records for Cook County's unified court system, one of the largest in the world.

Shapiro, 55, made her no-pay offer during a recent Daily Herald interview during which she criticized Brown for wasteful spending, which Shapiro says includes chauffeurs, bodyguards and vehicles.

"Have we not had enough of (politicians) using elected positions as a piggy bank?" Shapiro said.

Brown, in a separate Daily Herald interview, refuted Shapiro's claims.

Brown said she has one security person, whom she described as a "dual assignment" employee whose responsibilities also include investigating discrimination and sexual harassment complaints within the court clerk's office and escorting money collected by cashiers to the vault. Brown said she does not use a department vehicle for personal business and that a vehicle she uses for business-related travel also is used to transport evidence from the suburban districts.

Brown said improved efficiency helped generate revenue which exceeded $100 million from 2006 to 2010. In 2011, the clerk's office generated $96.5 million and spent $74.3 million, said Brown. She attributed the increased revenue in part to the introduction of a credit card payment system and improved past-due collection efforts.

Shapiro also took aim at what she called "antiquated technology" in the court clerk's office.

"The computerized system in that office and throughout Cook County is built on a 1980s platform, which has not been improved or upgraded to any real degree" since it was installed, Shapiro said.

Brown rejected Shapiro's description of the system as antiquated, saying the office has undergone "miraculous changes" since she took over in 2000.

She said she put in place a $6 million document management system that makes available more than 50 million images of public court documents, including filings, pleadings and answers to motions from the chancery, civil, law and probate divisions. Those documents can be viewed at public access terminals at clerks' offices located in the county's courthouses.

Brown also points to other updates she's made to the office's operations, including an integrated cashier and security system that speeds up payment of fines and includes a surveillance component to determine if a balance discrepancy is the fault of a customer or an employee.

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