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Board willing to wait for Stroger

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON AND FRAN SPIELMAN

Despite dire warnings of Titanic-like budget problems looming, Cook County Board members showed no interest in hurrying along a plan to replace ailing board President John Stroger.
Tuesday, they shot down a plan to conduct public hearings on Stroger's health and to ultimately cast votes on whether to oust him.
That decision came as Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) said his father has been released from the hospital -- though he refused to shed any more light on the complications his father faces from a March 14 stroke.
But as Stroger continues to recover under a veil of secrecy, concerns are building about the state of county government finances.
'I have my life preserver on'
Complaints are mounting that the county is growing slow to pay contractors, forecasts predict the county will fall $77 million short in its budget and the county's top financial official said Tuesday he has "a healthy amount of skepticism" that the biggest deficits will be easily fixed.
County chief financial officer Tom Glaser, saying he sees "icebergs floating," predicted dire consequences, telling board members "I have my life preserver on."
Still, the county board did nothing Tuesday to avert the crisis or provide an answer to who is in charge of the county's $3 billion government -- though all agreed something needs to be done.
A majority said they are willing to wait until July -- when the Stroger family has said they'll make a decision on the president's future -- but no one seems to know exactly when in July.
"If we don't hear from the family by July," Commissioner Roberto Maldonado said, "I'm going to feel ... like I'm being played with by the Stroger family."
'A bunch of vultures circling'
The board did vote to send two plans to committee for further study -- one that would allow Stroger to temporarily step aside and have the board tap an interim replacement, while another would expand the powers of President Pro Tempore Joseph M. Moreno.
But without a special meeting, neither will come up again until the board's July 12 meeting. Moreno cautioned all that he holds veto power and he'll use it if the board passes anything he deems to be offensive to Stroger.
"I see a bunch of vultures circling in this room," he added.
Many board members have been mentioned as possible replacements to serve the final six months of Stroger's term -- tops among them Bobbie Steele and John Daley, though both said they're hoping Stroger returns.
Stroger Chief of Staff James Whigham said he's not seen his boss since he was hospitalized June 8 with an infection, though he said he soon plans to ask Yonnie Stroger if he can discuss county issues with her husband.
Taking a shot at board members hoping he'll serve as their conduit to Stroger, Whigham said, "I'm not an errand boy for commissioners."
Todd Stroger, leaving a City Council hearing, refused to divulge details of his father's condition, saying, "All I've got is he's out of the hospital."
Commissioner Tony Peraica, who is set to challenge John Stroger in the November election, said the secrecy and lack of leadership has made the county "a national laughingstock." South suburban Commissioner Liz Gorman said the mess is "making us look like the Cubs."
But Steele said, "We've waited this long, what's the urgency?"


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