Although they’ve been on the job for less than a year, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle recently gave salary hikes totaling $33,000 to her taxpayer-funded bodyguards – one of whom volunteered for Preckwinkle’s last campaign, the Better Government Association has learned.

That one-time unpaid volunteer, Delwin Gadlen, now is the top-paid member of Preckwinkle’s three-man security detail, pulling in $100,260, according county spokeswoman Jessey Neves.

At the time the raise took effect on July 7, Gadlen’s annual salary was $90,290, Neves confirmed.

Before he started working for county government on Jan. 5, 2011, Gadlen was a Chicago police officer with an annual salary of about $75,000 a year, according to city records.

In a brief interview, Gadlen said he was chosen for his current post because of his law enforcement background and his master’s degree. Neves insisted that politics was “not a determining factor in the selection of these candidates.”

As for the pay raises, Neves said they were justified because “original salaries were based on a plan of [a four-member] security detail. We have instead remained at three individuals. Therefore, each individual is working longer hours than anticipated. None of the security detail will be eligible for overtime.”

During the last election, Gadlen served as a driver “on his own time” for Preckwinkle, Neves said.

Once she took office in December – following an election victory in November – Preckwinkle had “the right to recommend individuals for her security detail,” and Gadlen was chosen, Neves said.

Traditionally, bodyguards for the county board president have come from the Cook County sheriff’s office – and they typically received a bump in pay to correspond with those new high-profile duties.

But because Gadlen and another Preckwinkle guard, Kelvin Pope, came from outside county government, their salaries – and the pay raises for all three members of the detail – have added roughly $200,000 to the county payroll, the BGA found.

Pope, who had been a University of Chicago police officer, now is making $82,130 a year. Before the July raise, his county salary was $75,077. (A U of C spokesman would not reveal what Pope had been making at the school.)

Toni Preckwinkle Ernie Torres 365
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (Ernie Torres/Sun-Times)

The third member of the detail is Keith McLendon, who until Jan. 7 was a sheriff’s correctional officer. His salary has increased from $49,202 to $59,090 to the current rate, $75,077 – all in less than a year, county records show.

None of the three officers apparently had much, if any, experience as bodyguards prior to their current roles. But they since have been trained by the sheriff’s office so they could serve in that role, said spokesman Steve Patterson.

Preckwinkle’s predecessor – Todd Stroger, whom she defeated in last year’s Democratic primary – had five officers in his protection detail at one point, Patterson said.

Overall, Stroger’s security team cost taxpayers roughly $310,000 in salaries in 2010, while Preckwinkle’s is expected to be about $260,000 in 2011, according to figures provided by Preckwinkle’s office. (Gadlen is making at least $2,900 more than Stroger’s highest-paid security officer in recent years, those records show.)

Either way, Neves said Preckwinkle “maintains a comparatively modest security detail” that is “the responsible size given her long hours.”

Even so, the pay hikes come at a time when finances are so tight Preckwinkle is contemplating closing county facilities, and cutting jobs and programs, and ordering furloughs. (The projected budget deficit is now $315 million, Neves said.)

Publicly funded security has been a hot topic in recent months as Mayor Rahm Emanuel allowed his predecessor – Richard M. Daley – to keep police bodyguards and use them to, among other things, chauffeur Daley’s wife, Maggie, to and from doctor appointments as she undergoes treatment for cancer.

Also stirring controversy was Ald. Ed Burke, the only member of the Chicago City Council to have a full-time security detail, which he’s maintained since the racially charged “Council Wars” of the 1980s.

The BGA sued the Chicago Police Department earlier this year to obtain records of that operation, and found that taxpayers spent nearly $600,000 on Burke’s protection in 2009 alone.

Emanuel has ordered that Burke’s detail be scaled back, shifting from on-duty officers to retired cops.

And the new mayor also recently stripped away police chauffeurs from the Chicago Housing Authority’s now-former CEO in the wake of BGA/FOX Chicago News inquiries about questionable spending at the agency.

At the county level, Treasurer Maria Pappas was the subject of a BGA/CBS2 report in January after it was discovered that she was using an employee who was on the books as a “project leader” to drive her around and serve as a bodyguard. The employee had no police experience – but like Pappas spoke Greek, she explained at the time, justifying his use.

Here’s a rundown on other top county-wide elected officials, according to representatives in their offices:

  • Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has one “driver/security person”;

  • Recorder of Deeds Gene Moore has no bodyguards;

  • Assessor Joe Berrios has no bodyguards;

  • Clerk David Orr has no bodyguards;

  • Tom Dart, the sheriff, has no bodyguards; and

  • State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has a security detail, but her spokeswoman wouldn’t reveal its size.