Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
On Wednesday Cook County Board president Todd Stroger sat behind the rostrum listening as commissioners led by finance chairman John Daley dissected and debated budget amendments. On Thursday he told them it was their job to get a budget passed; he'd already done his work by proposing a plan that would raise sales taxes and add jobs. On Friday he sued.
"In the performance of his duties, President Stroger submitted his executive budget to the board's finance committee on October 17, 2007," says the complaint, filed in county court by Stroger, state's attorney Richard Devine, and sheriff Tom Dart, naming all 17 board members as defendants. "All conditions precedent to the board's duty to adopt an Annual Appropriation Ordinance have taken place." The suit asks the court to order commissioners to keep meeting until they have a budget deal done and, in the event the deadline passes, to authorize county treasurer Maria Pappas to make payments to keep the government running.
Late Friday word circulated that a deal might be in place. Commissioners would agree to raise the sales tax one percentage point in return for Stroger agreeing to farm out management of the county health system to a private firm--essentially a compromise floated earlier by commissioner Larry Suffredin.
But a last-minute deal isn't going to undo the impression of many taxpayers that the board is full of ineffective grandstanders and the government dismally managed. And some of the most frustrated citizens are the people who work for the county and don't consider themselves waste.
"The taxpayers and citizens brought them in to do a job--and no one's doing it," one longtime county employee told me Friday evening. "It's time to get some younger people in there with some fresh ideas."
The county went through a budget crisis last year too. This employee can explain, far better than I can, what he's seen and been through since then:
"I've worked for the county for more than 20 years, and last year they cut my pay. Some people who'd just come in didn't get their pay cut. It was about $7,000 a year; I was making about $79,000, but I've been working there more than 20 years. In fact I haven't had a raise since [my boss] came in there. Some of the people he's brought in have. But that's how this county works. It's all politics. All of the offices have stuff going on that shouldn't be. Our office isn't squeaky clean, either, but I really don't get involved in it. I usually do my work and keep to myself.
"Right now I don't think this is just Todd Stroger's fault. Everybody says he doesn't have the right experience, but they're just looking at him as a scapegoat. They should just sit down and work together. The problem is that everybody wants to be the commander in chief. Everybody wants to have the power.
"All this mess has got to go. Sooner or later they're going to have to change things. They're going to have to think of the people paying the taxes.
"I have bills to pay too, and taking $7,000 away from me--I worked more than 20 years for that salary. I haven't missed work. I've never been late to work, not one day. I've never played around on the job or anything like that. I'm from the south--my father was a sharecropper who worked hard, and I'm his son. I believe in working hard. I've worked hard and I have a home. I've got gas bills and kids I'm trying to support, but this is politics. What can I do about it?"