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Editorial about fire unfair to Cook County

Monday, October 18, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by John H. Stroger Jr

Chicago -- It is unfortunate that in the Tribune's Oct. 6 editorial "Chicago's next high-rise tragedy" you chose to mislead readers relative to two separate investigations surrounding the tragic fire at the Cook County Administration Building last year.

Neither the Mikva commission nor the Witt reports, well over 1,000 pages of analysis, can be summarized adequately in a single news story, much less a single editorial.

The Tribune has seen fit to select a few of the more than 100 commission findings and manipulate them to meet its political agenda.

To suggest that the county "cut corners" at the expense of safety is ridiculous.

The building is located within the corporate boundaries of the City of Chicago and as such is required to meet the city's building code.

As a home-rule unit of government, the City of Chicago promulgates its own codes and regulations for all buildings within its boundaries.

On Oct. 17, 2003, the Cook County Administration Building met all fire and life-safety regulations as required by the City of Chicago Municipal Code. The Tribune editorial fails to point out that the Witt report acknowledged a disparity between state and city codes. The Witt report recommended "harmonizing" these codes so that the city would operate under one uniform standard.

The insinuation that the county is somehow responsible for the failure of other governmental units to "harmonize" fire codes shows either a total disregard for fundamental accuracy or an intentional misrepresentation of the facts.

Cook County's retention of the professional real estate management company was performed through an open, fair, competitive and exhaustive process that resulted in a contract approved by the full County Board.

After taking sworn testimony from county employees involved in that process, the Mikva commission acknowledged this fact. James Lee Witt's company never asked county officials about this process and did not comment on the issue.

For the Tribune, and others, to continue to suggest that the political affiliation of the building manager's officers had anything to do with this fire is baseless and irresponsible.

These two reports were commissioned for the specific purpose of making high-rise buildings safer and the public should know that efforts have been and are continuing to be made to that end. I applaud the Chicago Fire Department for its efforts in implementing many of the recommendations set forth by the Mikva commission.

And while the building was code-compliant at the time of the fire, the county has now retrofitted this building with sprinklers and other features that go beyond current code requirements.

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