Quit stalling on Cook County reforms
Sunday, March 16, 2008
It hardly comes as a surprise to see downstate Republicans waving foam fingers in the air and razzing Cook County for having reached the highest sales tax in the nation, as GOP lawmakers did in Springfield last Thursday.
And, it cannot go unsaid that such juvenile attempts at humor from state lawmakers -- especially when chiding a local unit of government whose actions do not affect them -- do little to raise their stature on the "statesmanship" scale.
But all that said, it also cannot go unnoticed that this is the kind of behavior and ridicule that Cook County government inspires these days.
It doesn't have to be this way. If ever a time existed for courage and leadership in county government, this is it, and a resolute commitment to seriously addressing the expense side of the county budget would go far to boosting the public's confidence in the county's ability to wisely manage additional money.
So far, both from above and from within, county leaders have squandered their opportunities on that score. Playing a dangerous game of political chicken -- not unlike, by the way, the political example their state lawmakers provided just a few weeks earlier -- county board members and their president took the funding crisis to the very brink of disaster last month before finally reaching a solution, unsatisfactory as it was. On the very day they were approving a sales tax hike to avoid having to clean house in county agencies, a judge monitoring the county's hiring issued a report identifying more than 200 illegal patronage jobs. Despite his promises to reform county government, President Todd Stroger still has yet to install an aggressive inspector general to root out corruption and illegal hiring in county government.
To be sure, Stroger inherited from his father a bloated operation brimming with problems that are not easy for anyone to solve, and he gets little help from county board members, who essentially fall into opposing camps of those who will do almost anything the president bids and those who will oppose almost anything he bids. Yet, it is distressing to observe that 15 months into the Todd Stroger era, not a single step has been taken to address the root problems plaguing county government.
An opportunity may exist for that to change this week. Eight months after an ordinance passed that Stroger had offered to placate critics, the county still has not begun replacing its existing inspector general through a new, more-independent process. As the Daily Herald's Rob Olmstead reports today, county board member Peter Silvestri, an Elmwood Park Republican, is tired of waiting and is proposing an ordinance that would set a timetable for getting something done.
We're tired of waiting, too. It's a shame to have to have something like Silvestri's amendment in order to move this board, but if that's what it takes, so be it. At least it's a start -- and it's surely more productive than taunting from lawmakers who really have no room to point their foam fingers.