Expensive Cicero warehouse built by taxpayer money hardly being used

If there's one thing politician's love, it's cutting ribbons.

But what happens when they cut the ribbon on a building that then sits unused for more than a year?

Cook County taxpayers spent 24-million dollars building a huge new records warehouse for Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown. But FOX 32 found the building is hardly being used, and that's led to finger pointing between the clerk and the county.

A ribbon cutting had taken place by some of Cook County's top elected officials for a brand new records storage and digital imaging center in Cicero.

It's a massive warehouse, and the size of four football fields. It's designed to house a million boxes of court records now scattered in various warehouses around Cook County.

And it's run by Brown, who said the following at the dedication 14 months ago:

"We're excitedly looking forward to being fully moved in and operational by early 2015," Brown said.

But FOX 32 discovered something different after getting a tip last January that the project had stalled.

Looking through a window, FOX 32 saw thousands of boxes of records sitting on pallets in the middle of the warehouse. Many were still wrapped in plastic and untouched since being trucked in.

The state of the art shelving system that cost millions of dollars to build is completely empty.

So, FOX 32 gave it a few more months, checked back a couple weeks ago and found the exact same scene.

The same boxes were in the same place, and the same shelves were empty.

FOX 32: What do you think when you see that?

"Well I have to tell you Dane, I'm a little disappointed," said Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tabolski.

FOX 32 showed pictures of what we found to Tobolski, who was one of the politicians present when that ribbon was cut nearly 14 months ago.

"It doesn't seem like anybody on the administrative side, certainly none of the commissioners, had any knowledge of this. I think that they would be shocked, and they'll be shocked when they see this, that nothing has been done in that warehouse in a number of months," Tobolski said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Brown denies there's any holdup.

"The clerk....staff has already made progress in shelving a significant number of the more active court records located at the Cicero warehouse," the statement read.

When FOX 32 asked whether we could get a camera inside to see for ourselves, the spokesperson responded, "Not at this time."

The clerk's office said the boxes stacked on the floor will soon be shelved, and this comes after the Cook County board in April approved a $220,000 dollar contract to hire a moving company.

But the town of Cicero issued an occupancy permit for the warehouse in October, which is why Tobolski and other commissioners are wondering why it took so long for the clerk's office to request that moving contract.

"What happened in all of those months? Why did it take so long to say, hey, we've got this brand new beautiful warehouse? There's an expense there. The lights are on. There's electricity that has to be paid," Tobolski said.

Record-keeping has long been a problem for Cook County, and it's more than just the clerk's office.

Pictures obtained by FOX 32 show conditions of medical records at Oak Forest Hospital, and state's attorneys' records stored in a bathroom in 2012.

This is why Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has been pushing for a centralized storage location for the million boxes of court records.

In a statement, Preckwinkle says:

"I encourage Clerk Brown and her team to move quickly to begin the work authorized by the board and stand ready to offer any assistance that my staff can provide in accomplishing this goal."

So, why does the clerk's office need to hire private movers to put the boxes on the shelves? Her spokesperson said it's too big a job for the clerk's workforce, which numbers more than 1800, including 80 at the new Cicero facility.

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