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Stroger threatens to veto commissioner staffing funding

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County commissioners tried to save some of their staff from the budget ax Tuesday, but their attempt ran smack into the gavel of board President John Stroger.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) wanted Stroger's budget team to restore funding to county commissioners' staff positions.

As part of the budget-cutting reforms pushed by Suffredin and others for the 2005 budget, the money set aside for any vacant job was cut in half. But commissioners often leave one job on their staff officially vacant, then use the money to hire people on contract.

The administration cut that funding, too, even though protesting commissioners said those aren't really vacant jobs.

Suffredin said the board never meant to do that. A majority of commissioners agreed with him. But Stroger said he would veto the measure no matter what.

"It's not right ... to apply different standards to the commissioners, and that's what you're asking," Stroger said. "I'm not going to do that. ... You can get nine votes, or 10 votes, I'm going to live up to my obligation as a president who tries to be fair and veto it."

Suffredin got 11 votes, but after nearly an hour of parliamentary wrangling, he sent his proposal to the county finance committee rather than letting it pass only to be vetoed.

"This is a constitutional issue, Mr. President," Suffredin said. "The executive has infringed upon the legislative. ... We may have to have a court decide if you're not willing to work it out."

Since 1997, commissioners have been allowed to leave one member of their four-person staff vacant and use that money to hire employees on contract.

Budget director Donna Dunnings told commissioners they were given less money for contract employees because all money for "vacant staff positions" was reduced in the budget.

The usually quiet Commissioner Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview) was furious about the cuts.

"All of a sudden we've changed the rules," Goslin said. "I expect the rules to be followed."

Commissioner Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside) said he believed Stroger was trying to retaliate against commissioners who rebelled against Stroger during this year's budget battle.

"I'm not trying to punish nobody," Stroger said.

Other commissioners also doubted Peraica's accusation, noting one of the commissioners who lost the most staff was finance committee chairman John Daley, (D-Chicago), the mayor's brother and a strong Stroger ally.

Daley promised to work on the issue with Stroger's administration.

"I would caution the administration to get it together, because this is a disgrace," said Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park). "This can be worked out if both sides want it."

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