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Toni Preckwinkle’s First Speech as Board President

Monday, December 06, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times

I am honored to be here with you today.

I want to thank my family. I would have never entered this race had it not been for the love and support of my family – my husband Zeus, my children – Kyle and Jennifer, and my daughter-in-law Ronisha.

I want to thank the Mayor and my colleagues in the City Council who have joined me today...I want to thank the residents of the 4th Ward for giving me the opportunity to serve you as Alderman for 19 years. I am grateful to the Governor for being here today – I look forward to working with you in the future.

This is a particular honor for me because, when I first announced my candidacy over two years ago, conventional wisdom was that I was the long shot.

Two years ago I asked you to join me as we launched a campaign to reinvent county government.

So to everyone who made calls, donated money, knocked on doors, passed out literature, marched in parades, and, of course, voted – thank you. All of you have enabled me to be here today.

I have spent these last two years learning first hand about the issues facing the County, speaking with thousands of residents about how County government could better serve them.

As I have traveled our county, a single theme has emerged from residents of every region and from every walk of life. That theme is the need for change – for a new day in Cook County.

Early in my campaign for Board President, I put out a detailed plan, called the Compact for Change, which set forth our initiatives to bring desperately needed transparency, accountability and efficiency to County government.

The Compact for Change served as a foundation around which we assembled our diverse, talented, relentlessly hard-working policy teams to begin to the task of tackling the issues of the County.

The extensive reports of the policy teams, made public on our website, and as the foundation for our transition efforts. 

In short, we have been working towards this day for more than two years. We have studied. We have listened and learned from the array of reformers, professionals, civic and community leaders and experts who have shared their ideas and visions.

So today I say to you: we can do better.

However let there be no illusions about the difficulty of the challenges we face.

In the course of [our] history, no effort to bring real change has been easy.

And we must bring to our task the vision and determination of those who have come before us.

We must act. And we must act quickly.

After being elected, I asked a diverse group of civic and community leaders to come together and focus on creating a plan that would guide us forward both in the short-term and the long-term.

With the help of the citizens who submitted vision statements online, elected officials we met with, and expert pro bono civic partners brought together by the Civic Consulting Alliance, we have developed a set of recommendations.

The transition report reflects the ideas of Cook County citizens and input from a group of more than 80 public and private sector leaders who have brought diverse viewpoints and decades of experience to our efforts.

It is due in large part of their efforts that, on November 18th, I was able to bring together the eleven County-wide elected officials to begin a discussion of our early findings and to lay the groundwork to repeal the rest of the sales tax increase.

We face an estimated $487 million deficit. That challenge means each of us, as County-wide elected officials – must find 21 percent in savings in each of our offices. We’re going to do it through creativity and collaboration; we’re going to do it without reducing the quality of the services we provide. From this work, we will lay the groundwork to repeal the remainder of the sales tax.

But it will not be easy. That said, no will be absolved and no one will be alone. It can be done, and done fairly, but we have to meet this challenge together.

Our County needs a new direction. Today, I present to you a comprehensive plan to set our County on this new course. This new direction comes from our commitment to fiscal responsibility, innovative leadership, transparency, accountability and improved services throughout the County.

Our immediate priority must be restoring fiscal responsibility to the County. Starting tomorrow, we will have until the end of January to develop a balanced budget to present to the Board. 

And while we cannot do this without County-wide collaboration, the President’s office can lead by example. Already we have identified over 60 cost-saving initiatives within the President’s office, including consolidating services within a Bureau of Administration, eliminating non-essential procurement and capital spending, and consolidating back-office functions, such as procurement and technology, of the different County departments. And as promised on the campaign trail, I will reduce my salary by 10 percent.

But the issue of the budget is not just about the deplorable $487 million deficit. One of the reasons we currently face such a tremendous deficit is the County’s lack of any long-term financial planning. 

The County sales tax increase raised tax rates on consumer goods in Cook County to the highest levels in the country. Adopted without any plan or constraints on the use of additional tax revenues, this tax increase was a Band-Aid solution that enabled the continued inefficiency of County government.

I know how much the sales tax devastated our working families and businesses. Today, I pledge that the FY 2011 budget will include a commitment to reduce the sales tax by 0.25% in FY 2012 and 0.25% in FY 2013.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Right now, we’re almost one week into fiscal year 2011 and we don’t have a budget. In few other places is it normal to enter a fiscal year without a plan for operations. This is, put simply, a bad idea. That’s why, as soon as we pass the FY2011 Budget, we will begin work to modernize and rationalize the county’s antiquated budget processes.

It will be our collective commitment to fiscal responsibility — a new and sensible approach to the stewardship of our tax dollars — that will transform our county government.

Just as we must transform our financial operations, so must we also introduce a culture of performance management.

In order to make the real change we need in Cook County, we need to demand a higher standard from these operations and set in place new measures to ensure that standards are met.

As President, I am committed to professionalizing the operation of the County. To meet this goal, I will appoint a Chief Performance Officer, who will set tough performance targets and hold employees responsible for progress.

The CPO will immediately be tasked with implementing a comprehensive personnel and compensation audit to review the duties of each employee within the President’s purview.

This is just the beginning.

This is the time – to open County government to its citizens; to make County government work for its residents.

When I first declared my candidacy for Cook County Board President, I would be stopped in the street by people who, without telling me their names, would identify themselves as County employees. They would tell me that, while they were working hard, they were discouraged by those who spent their days reading or talking on their personal cell phones.

This lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of Cook County government.

 Furthermore, the ability of citizens to hold their elected officials accountable is impacted greatly by their access to information.

 We’ve opened up a once secretive hiring process by asking folks who want to be public servants to submit their resumes through our transition Web site, and thousands of people did just that.

 In addition, all applicants for board appointments, including those currently serving, should be required to apply for the positions—just like everyone else—and the application forms should be easily accessible on the County’s website.

 As President, I will require that all current executive appointments to advisory boards be disclosed on the County’s website. I will also require that the function and eligibility requirements for each board, compensation, and term for each member, be posted online as well.

 We’re going to post bids and contracts online so everyone can see how our tax dollars are being spent.

The atmosphere of secrecy that permeates county government has been calculated to hide the many troubling practices for which the County has become known.

 The days of secrecy in Cook County are over.

I first decided to run for Cook County Board President because I believe government at all levels has two basic obligations: to provide the best services and to do so effectively and efficiently.

Most County departments run nearly independent back-office functions, which in many cases are redundant. For example, procurement and information technology are handled separately by multiple elected officials. This duplication wastes taxpayer dollars. It reduces the quality of County services by diverting management time away from their primary responsibility: frontline services to taxpayers. Centralizing certain administrative functions, such as procurement, information technology, and payroll, has the potential both to increase quality of the service and lower costs County-wide.

As we make cuts to wasteful, inefficient Government spending, we’ll find ways to make new investments where they’ll do the most good – investments in health and public service, investments to create jobs, investments in education and training.

In the area of health care, I have been a firm advocate of the independent health board and the need for its permanence. Created in 2008 to provide independent oversight of the public medical system, it has already proven effective at reducing the costs and improving the quality and delivery of services within our health care system. I applaud the work of Bill Foley and the Board of Directors andI am committed to working with them to ensure that all Cook County residents have access to these health services.

 In addition to the provision of health care that is provided by the County, we’ve got to work with the safety net hospitals and the community clinics to provide comprehensive health care for all our residents.

 The other major responsibility of the County is the overseeing the criminal justice system. Currently, the Cook County’s chronically overcrowded criminal justice system is a drain on the County’s budget and a threat to our public safety.  As Cook County Board President, I will expand resources for alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders and provide treatment for addiction, educational classes and life skills training.  This will reduce recidivism and make our county safer.  The benefits of this approach are three-fold: 1) decreasing the number of people sitting in jail at a cost of $117 per day and $35,000 per year, 2) facilitating re-entry and job training and 3) reducing the number of repeat offenders.

 Our current economic climate has only compounded the issues facing our residents.

One of the first actions of my administration will be to create a new Bureau of Economic Development by reorganizing and consolidating several existing departments and divisions, including the President’s Office of Employment Training (POET) and the Departments of Community Development, Capital Planning and Development and Building and Zoning.

The consolidation of services within a Bureau of Economic Development would not only help reduce costs but help my administration’s focus on effective economic development for the County.

I believe that this will enable us to make economic policy in a much more specific, clear and effective way than County government has done in quite some time.

As Cook County Board President, I am committed to identifying ways for the County to play a more active and aggressive role in economic development and regional planning.

We have a real opportunity to redefine Cook County’s place as the economic hub of the Midwest.

What I have shared with you today – are just some of the initiatives we will undertake.

 We’re going to make government less expensive and more effective.

That’s what my plan is all about: a leaner, more efficient, more transparent government.

Let’s go get to work.

Thank you!

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