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Stroger, unleashed

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Chicago Tribune Editorial Board

Good thing Todd Stroger is using only his own money to dole out jobs and raise salaries without seeking approval from the Cook County Board over which he presides.

Oh … wait … Stroger isn't using his money. He's using … your money, little taxpayer. And on Tuesday, he got enough board members to agree that he can keep right on hiring people and boosting salaries as he wishes. And why shouldn't his enablers — all of them Democrats — play along with Stroger? It's not their money, either. What do they care?

Never mind that voters made it abundantly clear in the Feb. 2 primary that they want nothing more to do with Stroger or his arrogant Friends and Family First management style. This guy can't take a hint — such as finishing fourth in a four-way primary, an incumbent with a humiliating 13.7 percent of the vote. He won't be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Many pols would accept that stunning rebuke and quietly serve out their terms. But not Stroger. He's the overstaying houseguest, determined to keep raiding the fridge and dominating the TV remote until he moves out at the end of November.

Which sticks the rest of us with two problems, one immediate and one that stretches for the remainder of his lame-duckery:

• Stroger and his lieutenants spend as if there's no tomorrow — true enough for them, but not for us taxpayers. We have to mop up the damage. John Daley, chairman of the board's Finance Committee, has spent two years urging a hiring freeze. Daley has spoken often of the need to cut costs out of respect for taxpayers facing job losses and home foreclosures. Stroger's response: Since losing the primary, he has hired six top-level employees at salaries ranging from $95,000 to $150,000. He also handed out raises that, in Daley's opinion, violate a December board resolution aimed at controlling costs. And when the board voted 16-1 earlier this month to tighten somewhat his ability to hire and award pay hikes, Stroger vetoed the measure.

That set up Tuesday's vote seeking to override Stroger's veto. The tally, 9-6 to override, fell short of the necessary 11 "yes" votes. The Stroger Six: William Beavers, Jerry Butler, Earlean Collins, Joan Patricia Murphy, Deborah Sims and Robert Steele. Steele and a seventh commissioner who gutlessly voted present, Edwin Reyes, had been co-sponsors of the original measure to tighten controls on Stroger.

Some of the Strogerites clung to a state's attorney's office suggestion that, essentially, the board doesn't have the authority to block Stroger's personnel decisions. Would a court have agreed with that opinion, as some lawyers on the board disputed? Taxpayers will never know. Advantage: Stroger.

• The longer-term concern of several board members is that an emboldened Stroger will leave his successor, Democrat Toni Preckwinkle or Republican Roger Keats, with the carcasses of cronies he's hired, and a payroll that continues to bloat. Later in Tuesday's meeting, board members did pass a measure urging (not requiring) that Stroger and other county officials freeze most hiring outside the county health system.

We hope everyone in county government abides by that request. Out here in Cook County, economic times are tough. Even if, inside the County Building, Todd Stroger has just been unleashed to spend as he wishes for his final six-plus months.


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