Colleen Haran once lived across the street from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Haran also worked for the sheriff’s office – until she allegedly crossed taxpayers.

Haran, 43, resigned in advance of being fired for alleged time theft – changing her attendance records to reflect that she was working when she really wasn’t, according to records we obtained from the sheriff’s office under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

What makes this more interesting isn’t necessarily the amount of time involved – Haran was busted for shaving off eight hours in total, records show – but her clout and connections.

Before her stint with Dart, Haran worked as a legislative aide from 1990 to 2007 for the City Council’s Committee on Finance, which is run by Ald. Ed Burke (14th), according to documents obtained from the sheriff’s office, and interviews.

Haran’s father was a precinct captain for Burke, according to interviews. Neither Burke nor Haran returned calls.

Meanwhile, Haran once lived with her family across from Dart in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Far Southwest Side. Apparently based at least in part on that personal connection, Dart hired Haran as his personal secretary. She was a “Shakman-exempt” employee – meaning Dart didn’t have to follow anti-patronage rules in hiring her as he does with most employees.

Haran worked for about three and a half years in that job before being transferred to other positions at the agency, most recently to the sheriff’s human resources department because her executive assistant job “was not a good fit,” said Dart spokeswoman Cara Smith.

While working in that new position Haran allegedly fudged her time-keeping records, which was discovered in an audit.

The sheriff’s Office of Professional Review, which looks into employee misconduct allegations, “reviewed attendance records and memorandums from the Personnel Department and determined that Ms. Haran altered her attendance records on two . . . occasions in the Time Tracker database,” according to sheriff’s office documents, which also indicate “Ms. Haran admitted, after being interviewed by OPR, that she altered her attendance records and is sorry for her mistake.”

Haran told investigators this was the only time she faked her time sheets and did so for personal reasons.

Haran resigned in April in lieu of discharge, officials said. She was making $70,000 a year.

Dart “knew Colleen and she was qualified to be hired as his executive assistant,” Smith said. “It’s extremely disappointing when any staff member fails to perform to the level that we expect [them] to perform at . . . particularly so when it’s somebody hired into a trusted position.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve written about Southwest Side sheriff’s employees. In 2011, we reported with Crain’s Chicago Business how one in four of the best-paid sheriff’s employees lived in or near the 19th Ward – Dart’s political base, as well as the political base of his predecessor, former Sheriff Mike Sheahan.

On the merits?

While Dart can hire and fire Shakman-exempt employees such as Haran virtually at will, his agency has a “merit board” to oversee hiring, promotions and discipline for sworn officers – nearly 6,000 courtroom deputies, street cops and correctional officers who comprise the bulk of the sheriff’s work force.

There are eight members of the board, all appointed by the sheriff, with the consent of the County Board.

The board isn’t well known by the public, and it generally meets once a month. But it’s relatively well compensated – with pay anywhere from $26,397 to $31,680, and credits toward a taxpayer-subsidized pension.

Aside from the pay and perks, the board is noteworthy for the connections of some members, including:

  • Vincent Winters, whose uncle, William Winters, is a higher-up in the sheriff’s office. Vincent Winters is an attorney for Operating Engineers Local 399. The union and an affiliate have donated $54,000 to Dart’s political campaigns since 1995, state records show. Vincent Winters, appointed by Dart to the merit board in 2011, would not comment.
  • Byron Brazier, a son of late Bishop Arthur Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, a large, politically active black congregation on the South Side. The younger Brazier now presides over the church and said he initially was appointed to the merit board by Sheahan in 2000. Dart has since reappointed Brazier.
  • John Rosales, who has donated $600 to Dart’s campaign since 2012. Rosales is the $84,000-a-year director of Olive-Harvey College’s South Chicago Learning Center, part of City Colleges. Rosales said Dart is a friend. Dart appointed him in 2011.
  • John Dalicandro, a former village manager of Elmwood Park. Dalicandro currently receives a municipal pension of more than $103,000 a year and has donated $300 to Dart’s campaign. Dalicandro, who was appointed to the merit board by Dart in 2008, declined to comment.

All these connections made us wonder about the board’s independence and ability to make objective decisions. And it made us wonder about qualifications – were folks tapped based on politics rather than expertise?

Smith, Dart’s spokeswoman, said each board member offers a different perspective and type of expertise, and she noted the board’s decisions on discipline sometimes irritate the administration.

“These individuals, whether appointed or reappointed, constitute an independent board,” Smith said. “Since July 1 of 2013, 48 percent of the merits board’s decisions were contrary to the discipline the sheriff recommended.”

There’s pending county legislation to diminish the benefits of merit board members. If the legislation passes, merit board members would receive $500 per official meeting with a cap of $25,000 a year. Pension benefits would also be eliminated.

Dart is supportive of the measure but there are questions about whether state legislation is required rather than a bill at the county level, officials said.