Cook County government employees are feeling the heat these days as newly seated Board President Toni Preckwinkle imposes layoffs and makes significant budget cuts.
But one politically active county worker may lose his job for allegedly seeking heat.
Frank J. Phillips, an $87,000-a-year operating engineer at the county-owned and -operated Oak Forest Hospital, was arrested earlier this winter and charged by prosecutors with attempted theft for trying to steal a giant kerosene heater from a secure area of the medical center, officials said.
Phillips, 46, was suspended without pay on Jan. 13, a day after his arrest, said Lucio Guerrero, spokesman for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.
A county hearing officer likely will make a decision in coming weeks about whether he should be fired, Guerrero said.
Phillips’s next court date is March 10.
The heater was considered “homeland security” equipment, and was being stored in a restricted area of the hospital, Guerrero said.
Phillips allegedly was caught attaching wheels to the unit, which was described by a county official as resembling the heaters on the sidelines of NFL games. Several sources within county government said the heater appeared destined for a tailgating event.
But Phillips—who in 2004 donated $300 to then-Cook County Board President John Stroger’s campaign fund and has given $1,000 over the years to a political committee run by a union—told the BGA: “That would never happen, it wouldn’t even fit” in a car.
Phillips, who started work at the county in 1988, insisted he was assembling the heater so he could use it outdoors for a boiler project at the hospital.
He said he was making do with equipment that was sitting around because “every time you need something fixed they give you $5 and a stick of gum.”
This entry was written and reported by BGA senior investigator Patrick Rehkamp. He can be reached at (312) 386-9201, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.