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2 Cook commissioners waffling on pay cut

Thursday, September 22, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

A battle over all Cook County commissioners taking 10 unpaid days took a turn Thursday, as two commissioners pledged to try to cut the office budgets of any commissioner who refuses to take the time off.

The publicity this week over five commissioners vowing to not take the pay cut led to growing pressure on them, and two said they’re rethinking that decision.

And the rhetoric also heated up, with Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) blasting the holdouts as “Strogerites through and through,” referring to them being political allies of former county board president Todd Stroger.

“These five commissioners make the process look stupid, and we all look stupid,” Suffredin said. “To say ‘you all have to take these 10 days off but we’re not,’ it’s slapping all county workers in the face.”

That prompted Commissioner William Beavers (D-Chicago) to fire back that Suffredin was “an idiot” and “a misfit.”

But if Beavers was digging in his heals in refusing to take the unpaid days, commissioners Robert Steele (D-Chicago) and Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) were not. They told county board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office on Thursday that they would go along with the majority of the board and take the time off, according to a source in Preckwinkle’s office.

Murphy said Thursday night that the episode had become a public relations nightmare, and her offices were inundated with calls from angry constituents.

“I am reconsidering,” she said. “The general public thinks we’re bad guys for not doing it. I heard it from my constituents that ‘you think you’re better than we are.”’

Steele had said he would only take seven days off without pay, declining to take the other three as a “personal protest.”

But Thursday night he said he would likely take all 10 because “I made the commitment to several (employee) unions to save their members’ (jobs).”

The 10 days without pay were included in the county’s 2011 budget that commissioners passed unanimously in February and now has a deficit of about $500 million. The time off is estimated to save the county $29 million and is to apply to almost all of the county’s roughly 23,000 workers, including department heads and commissioners.

But five commissioners, including Earlean Collins (D-Chicago) and Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), announced this week that they would not take the days. Some of them cited the Illinois Constitution not allowing a change in an elected official’s pay during their term in office.

But that doesn’t prevent commissioners from voluntarily electing to take the pay cut, which would amount to about $4,000 off their $85,000 annual salary.



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