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Cook County needs temporary fill-in for ailing Stroger

Monday, June 19, 2006
Daily Southtown

THE ISSUE: John Stroger's lengthy recovery from a stroke has created a major void in the operations of Cook County government.

WE SAY: Officials must find a way to appoint a temporary replacement for Stroger. There are too many problems for the county not to have a decision-maker at the top.

John Stroger, long-time president of the Cook County Board and a revered leader of the African-American community, has not been seen in public since March 14, when it was reported that he had suffered a serious stroke.
He has been in and out of hospitals, and reports about his condition have varied, some stating that he has been incapacitated, others saying he is aware and alert and undergoing physical therapy. Still, Stroger has not made a public appearance since the stroke; it seems clear that if he were capable of making an appearance or giving an interview, he would have done so.
And so the political maneuvering proceeds. It seems that every other day someone new claims to be the official spokesman for the board president. Early on, it was Stroger's son, Todd. Another time it was a group of ministers who said they had met with him. Most recently, Chicago Ald. William Beavers (7th) declared himself to be the family spokesman. Stroger's chief of staff has claimed to be running the day-to-day operations of the county, but has said Stroger was making some unspecified decisions. And several individuals have begun to speak openly about taking over the board presidency, at least temporarily; others have said they would consider taking the job if it were offered.
Meanwhile, word out of the county building is that county revenues are falling short of projections, leaving a $40 million deficit halfway through the fiscal year. In Stroger's absence, there is no one in a position to act as CEO of the county and take steps to cut spending or take some other action to adapt to the worsening fiscal picture. Other routine functions have gone unaddressed.
The point is, it is time for someone to step in to act in Stroger's stead. No private business would attempt to operate indefinitely in the absence of its CEO ó there would be too many questions about responsibility and accountability, and frankly, too many opportunities for individuals to take advantage of the situation. County leaders need to face facts, adapt to Stroger's illness and protect the interests of the public.
But county politicians are doing their best to avoid making a decision. In part, this is because there is no formal process in place for temporarily filling the job. But a more important factor seems to be the political maneuvering that is under way surrounding Stroger's post. County politicians are taking up sides as "South Siders" or "West Siders" and lining up with candidates from their areas. John Daley, the mayor's brother, has let it be known he would be interested in the job if he were asked to take it.
Formal steps aimed at temporarily replacing Stroger have been greeted by protests that it would be disrespectful to him to act. To the contrary, in our view, what is disrespectful is the way in which Stroger is being exploited by people who are or claim to be his friends.
Cook County is a $3-billion-a-year corporation that can't be allowed to run on inertia. Someone needs to be in charge. Decisions on whether Stroger is able to be a candidate in November can wait until later in the year. But the county board needs to move now on filling the void created by Stroger's illness.

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