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Frustrated official seeks to jumpstart Cook County search process

Sunday, March 16, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

A suburban Cook County commissioner is so fed up with waiting for a new inspector general that he's putting forth an amendment to force the issue.

Republican Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park is proposing an amendment to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's ordinance that would put a 75-day time limit on getting names to nominate for inspector general.

"I mean, how long does it take?" an exasperated Silvestri said.

Stroger ran in the fall of 2006, promising to replace current Inspector General Joseph Price and institute a system whereby third-party bar associations nominate inspector general candidates. The president would choose from that list and the county board could approve or disapprove the choice.

Silvestri's amendment specifies that if the bar groups do not submit candidate names within 75 days after a request, the bar groups can be short circuited and another recommending group engaged.

Stroger partially followed up on his promise, passing an ordinance in July to restructure the office, but since then the process has stalled.

Silvestri acknowledged that the delay has not been all Stroger's fault.

Silvestri and others involved in the process said the bar associations are chafing at using a search firm the board picked, David Gomez and Associates, because they think it encroaches on their independence.

Another hangup, said Cook County Bar Association president Carl K. Turpin, was the salary of the Inspector General. Price makes approximately $100,000 a year, which many say is far too low for an office that investigates an operation with 25,000 employees. But with the recent passage of the budget -- which included a planned sales tax hike in the Chicago area to among the highest in the nation -- the salary was increased to around $150,000 and that hurdle has been cleared.

Ibis Antongiorgi, Stroger's spokeswoman, said the administration welcomes any measure that will speed up the process.

"We're fine with it," she said of Silvestri's ordinance change.

Silvestri said if selection of the search firm is the issue, fine -- pick another one.

"Let's get going here," he said.

Silvestri predicted the measure will be sent to committee Tuesday and will do little to move along the current process, but it might be in place the next time an inspector general needs to be appointed.

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