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Preckwinkle begins new era at Cook County

Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

Toni Preckwinkle took office as Cook County Board president Monday, promising to answer “the need for change” in government and roll back the remaining half of the previous 1-percentage-point sales-tax increase by the start of 2013.

Addressing what she identified as a $487 million budget deficit, Preckwinkle said she was pressing for a 21 percent cut across the board in county departments during “a period of shared sacrifice,” and added that “the president’s office can lead by example.” Preckwinkle said that, as promised on the campaign trail, she would take a 10 percent pay cut herself, and immediately accept the resignation of about three dozen of former President Todd Stroger’s political appointees, with more to follow.

“Lack of accountability has eroded the legitimacy of county government,” Preckwinkle said in remarks after she and the new Board of Commissioners were sworn in during a special meeting at the County Building in downtown Chicago. She promised a new era of “fiscal responsibility,” after previous administrations had shown “a lack of long-term financial planning.” She specifically called the 1-percentage-point increase in the sales tax pushed through by her predecessor, Todd Stroger, “a Band-Aid solution that enabled the continued inefficiency of government.”

“We can do better,” Preckwinkle said. “We’re going to make government less expensive and more effective ... and now it’s time to get to work.”

Preckwinkle revealed she met Nov. 18 with the other elected countywide officials and expressed the need to cut budgets 21 percent in “savings through creativity and collaboration ... without reducing the quality of services.”

Preckwinkle added that she was determined to “introduce a culture of performance management” to the county that would hold public employees to “a higher standard.” She announced she would be appointing a chief performance officer to oversee a comprehensive audit of all employees under the purview of the president about 8 percent of the county work force and also that she would consolidate a number of departments, including the embattled President’s Office of Employment Training, under a new Bureau of Economic Development to take “a more active and aggressive role” in spurring the local economy, in the public and private sectors.

Preckwinkle restated her support for the independent board overseeing the Health & Hospitals System and alternative sentencing for nonviolent inmates at Cook County Jail, including job-training and drug-addiction programs. She promised to consolidate redundant hiring and technology agencies from department to department.

Given the estimated $487 million 2011 budget deficit which has to be balanced before the end of January en route to February passage by the board Preckwinkle said, “It didn’t seem prudent” to immediately roll back the remaining half of Stroger’s penny-on-the-dollar increase in the sales tax, but she pledged to shave the tax a quarter of a percentage point for the 2012 budget and the remaining quarter for 2013, both effective to start the new year.

Preckwinkle was saluted individually by all 17 commissioners on the County Board, as well as Gov. Pat Quinn, who attended the ceremony. Stroger also attended, although he slipped out shortly after Preckwinkle’s inauguration.

Preckwinkle later presented Kurt Summers Jr. as her new chief of staff, a role he previously filled with the Chicago 2016 organization, which worked unsuccessfully to bring the Summer Olympics here.

Preckwinkle was administered the oath of office by Cook County Circuit Court Chief Justice Timothy Evans in a ceremony that also saw the swearing in of new Commissioners Jeff Tobolski of McCook and John Fritchey and Jesus Garcia of Chicago, all Democrats with close political ties to the new president.

A more festive inauguration took place for her campaign supporters later in the day at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown.

Preckwinkle said she would be releasing a transition report today the product of input from 80 leaders in the public and private sectors and that “thousands” had taken advantage of her offer to open county hiring by applying for jobs online.

Pledging added transparency, Preckwinkle said county bids and contracts would be posted online, declaring, “The days of secrecy in Cook County are over.”

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