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Memo to County Board: Leadership issue is urgent

Thursday, June 22, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

It wasn't so long ago that Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele seemed in line to become interim president of the County Board. With Board President John Stroger out of commission and, for the three months following his stroke, out of sight, she promised to get the county up and running again. Now, apparently, time is no longer of the essence for Steele or most of her fellow commissioners to make one of the largest governmental bodies in the country functional.

"We've waited this long, what's the urgency?" Steele said Tuesday, following a board meeting at which the majority of commissioners basically agreed to do nothing about this implosive crisis except wait for that vague July day on which Ald. Todd Stroger promised an announcement would be made about his father's future. This after he staked a kind of hereditary claim to the presidency himself as speculation about November grew.

With all her experience as a commissioner, all her knowledge of the way county government works and all her obligations to the people who put her in office, Steele wants us to believe she sees no pressing need to resolve this increasingly embarrassing situation quickly? Too many commissioners who should owe their allegiance to the voters want us to join them in counting on the Stroger family, which has done so much that is ethically wrong in putting a freeze on information about the president's health, to do what is right when the clock strikes July.

Steele and a majority of commissioners are passively giving in to the Stroger rules, backing off from acting on their authority -- as confirmed this week in a Cook County state's attorney opinion -- to declare that the board presidency is vacant and fill that vacancy. Demands for action from Republican Tony Peraica fell on deaf ears. If the reticence of the board members wasn't bad enough, President Pro Tempore Joseph M. Moreno thumbed his nose at the taxpayers by threatening to veto any measure that he, in his position of token power, deems offensive to Stroger.

Offensive to Stroger? We respect him for the devoted service he has given for so many years. But what about the offense being committed on the taxpayers by this bizarre Soviet-like scheme to treat his office as if it were some kind of private domain and to treat Cook County residents as if they were in Oz? What about all the important county business that needs to be addressed, including the budget and union contracts that need to be negotiated? So bad are county finances -- a budget shortfall of $77 million looms -- that Tom Glaser, county chief finance officer, talked of icebergs and said, "I have my life preserver on."

The board should make clear to the Stroger family that July 1 is the deadline for it to respond and if it doesn't, the board will act on its own. Regrettably, given the experience so far, expecting that kind of gut check from this board looks like wishful thinking.

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