Lake County's local government offices often become bastions of second chances, and they're not always the good kind.
I remember being shocked when I began working here 11 years ago and discovered various convicted folks — some found guilty of taking advantage of the public trust — back on local government payrolls after serving criminal sentences.
One in particular, a former East Chicago cop named Ronald Jackson, was working as a supervisor for the East Chicago sanitary solids division in 2005.
He wasn't a cop anymore because in 1988, Jackson was convicted of five felony drug charges, one for possessing cocaine with intent to sell the drug and four counts of using a phone for a drug transaction. He did all this while wearing a badge as one of East Chicago's "finest."
But all seemed to be forgiven from a city employment standpoint when he completed his prison sentence and returned to the warm embrace of East Chicago's patronage bosom.
Reviewing the Lake County Government Center payroll recently, I was again left scratching my head.
This time it was for an employee hired in September to work part-time — 32 hours a week at $10 per hour — for Lake County Recorder Mike Brown's office.
The new employee, Estela Montalvo, hasn't been convicted of any felonies, and her transgressions carried nowhere near the gravity of a cop busted for drug dealing, as was true in Jackson's case.
But her case is nothing to overlook either.
Montalvo, herself a past candidate for recorder, was convicted in Cook County court in 2010 of misdemeanor resisting arrest and obstruction of police charges. There was no jail time, just one year on a form of court supervision.
Her husband, disgraced former East Chicago Library Director Manuel Montalvo, was convicted in the same case. Both were arrested in May 20 after an altercation with NICTD cops on a railroad platform in Chicago.
When I spoke with her Friday, Estela Montalvo didn't deny the past mistakes.
But she noted it was more than four years ago and that it shouldn't affect her prospects for local government employment.
Her boss, Recorder Brown, agrees.
He said Estela Montalvo has been a model employee since last month. In fact, she began in a less visible records-scanning role and now works more with the public, retrieving documents folks request at the office.
"I moved her there because she is so good with people," Brown told me Friday.
He also said he was aware of Montalvo's past run-ins with the law. Brown noted they weren't felony convictions and that she deserves a second chance.
He may be right, but Brown had appearances to consider when he brought Montalvo into the county government fold.
Unfortunately for both Brown and Montalvo, so many folks with criminal records have been given second chances in Lake County that local government offices seem more like probationary halfway houses than places in which government business is conducted.
Brown is still in his first term and reasonably new to the political scene. I've lauded him in the past for his fresh, reach-across-party-lines approach.
But without more scrutiny in hiring, he risks appearing like the same old Lake County political story.