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Stroger's spoils system lets good government rot away

Thursday, February 08, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
Editorial

"Are you telling me there's something wrong with hiring someone you know for a job?" That's a quote from the unenlightened Todd Stroger, president of the Cook County Board, who sees nothing unusual, hypocritical or counterproductive about giving friends and relatives jobs and promotions while trying to convince the public the county must cut nurses, prosecutors, cops and others from the payroll. Here's your answer, Mr. President: Yes, there is something wrong.
Stroger would like you to think he's being unfairly criticized, because it's not like he's hiring unqualified people. Why, his cousin has the experience and education to be the new chief financial officer. The wife of his best friend? It made sense to make her the county's purchasing agent; after all, she was doing the same job for the Forest Preserve District. All his other hires and promotions? "Their only crime is that they know me," he says.
But is it a coincidence that so many of them know him? Is it possible, even probable, that knowing Stroger was the first if not the only consideration for them to be hired or promoted? Is it possible, even probable, that there were others who were more qualified but weren't considered because they didn't know him? Stroger can't answer that, because he didn't bother to look. He's laid off just one of the 500 or so workers -- many of them friends, relatives or members of his 8th Ward organization -- who are within his authority to fire.
Stroger's personnel decisions would look questionable even without considering the county's fiscal mess. Against that backdrop, however, they are even more astounding. Stroger has proposed deep cuts to the budget of every county department and officeholder in order to close a $500 million deficit. The plan has generated contentious debate from those who would be affected, including unions, advocates for the poor, and workers in the offices of the state's attorney's and sheriff. If his plan has any hope of passing, the public is going to demand evidence that fat has been eliminated before they'll allow cuts to basic services, or a tax increase. From a public relations standpoint alone, it's simply mind-boggling that Stroger doesn't see how his reliance on nepotism is eroding whatever credibility, authority and political capital he had.
Maybe if he had attended the public hearings on his budget he'd have a better clue. Instead, he blew them off, saying they had been hijacked by the unions. Basically, he didn't want to take the heat.
We don't know exactly how much fat there is in the county budget. But when you don't have to look far to find patronage -- and Stroger doesn't bother to hide it --then it's impossible in good conscience to support the level of cuts that Stroger has proposed.


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