How to fix county government.
Friday, September 07, 2007
by DICK SIMPSON
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and his staff have often been portrayed in the press as incompetent or overwhelmed. Stroger certainly had a difficult task, beginning his administration with an almost $500 million budget gap. He had to make drastic budget cuts while creating his new administrative staff.
After his election, Stroger appointed an excellent, if overly large, transition team made up of public officials, community and union leaders, former county employees and academics. Although the report has yet to be released in full, the administration has begun to implement some of the recommendations. According to Chief of Staff Lance Tyson, the total report will be released after this year's county budget is adopted at the end of November.
The criticism in the transition team report applies to Todd's father John Stroger's administration, and many of the recommendations will take time to implement.
I was a member of the transition team, and these are some of the recommendations I made:
1. Cook County can no longer afford to provide police, road and licensing services to the unincorporated areas of the county. It must require the incorporation of all unincorporated areas, which will require a change in state law.
2. County government must develop its long-term plans for capital improvement, county economic development and land use by strengthening the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and plan the county's future development within CMAP's 2040 Plan.
3. To better operate the cumbersome Cook County government, which has 100 separate administrative units reporting to the president, the county should institute ''deputy mayors'' such as the city of Chicago adopted under Mayors Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley.
4. The county must institute government performance measures, create an audited performance budget, and hold midyear accountability sessions for all major departments at hearings before the commissioners.
These are simple steps to improve county government.
The two most significant accomplishments by the government based on the transition team report thus far are passage of a tough new Inspector General Ordinance and the overhaul of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center by assigning an upper-level staffer to assess the conditions, demanding the first audit of the center in more than a decade and conducting a national search for a new director. Of course, it took a lawsuit to make it all happen, but the administration responded.
The next three steps to be implemented by the Stroger administration recommended by the transition team will be: 1) implementing performance measures for county government services, 2) greening (or pro-environment) efforts throughout the county, including new rubberized asphalt paving projects in the suburbs, and 3) releasing the proposed county budget on time for the first time in many years.
In a democracy there should be discussion, debate and leadership. No one expects all of the transition team proposals to be enacted. Team members are as fallible as anyone else. But in the current meltdown, the administration is beginning to reinvent county government. After November, the entire transition team report will become public and we will all be able to evaluate the Stroger administration's performance. Bringing the county into the 21st century is important for all its citizens.