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So many salaries, so little work

Friday, June 30, 2006
Chicago Tribune

If you live in Cook County, you're paying the salaries of 17 County Board members. You're paying for their benefits, their offices, their staffs, the time they spend playing politics.

If you live inside Chicago, you're also paying for the employment of 50 aldermen and, yes, all those other perks as well.

So how's that working? Does anyone think it takes 67 people to do what these folks are doing?

Consider: Your County Board is at a standstill, which has been difficult to confirm, given how little it budges on its active days. John Stroger, the board's president, is sidelined for health reasons. That leaves many of the remaining 16 commissioners without anyone to tell them what to do. So they do nothing. They address no county needs, they solve no county problems. Think of teenagers struggling to be up by the crack of noon and you pretty much have the picture.

In the City Council, meanwhile, Ald. Ed Burke has his 49 colleagues discerning whether Chicago should be the first city in the nation to prohibit restaurants from preparing food using trans fat oils. This now that all the busybody aldermen have recovered from ... banning the sale of foie gras last month. So:

See the County Board hibernate.

See the City Council desperately search for a reason to be.

Now ask yourself: How many of these people do we taxpayers really need on the public dole? Is there any reason we shouldn't send half of them--OK, two-thirds of them--packing?

Everyone knows county government needs a downsizing, so why not start at the top? The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has five members, which sounds about right. As is, a handful of Cook County Board members--Gregg Goslin, Liz Gorman, Mike Quigley and Larry Suffredin, to name four--work hard for the money. They research vexing policy questions. That's good. Because as Quigley is forever repeating, if only the County Board made better policies--to streamline its lumpen bureaucracy, to efficiently deploy your tax dollars--then citizens would get better services. But try having a serious talk like that with board members who see county government as an employment agency for all their relatives and friends.

And those 50 aldermen? This page noted last year that Chicago's council is the size of the governing bodies of L.A., Houston, Detroit and Philadelphia combined. For this we get the nanny state incarnate, pondering whether to insert itself again in how restaurants conduct business.

Ah, the mind drifts. Back in 1986, the council demanded that the U.S. government pull every last one of its nuclear weapons out of Chicago. If the government didn't comply, Chicago would fine it $1,000 and send it to jail for 30 days. Twenty years later, council members are still occupied with the minutiae of social engineering.

It's enough to make you cheer for more trans fats and fewer aldermen.

The case for 50 aldermen holds that each is a little mayor, graciously overseeing city services in his or her ward. But there has to be a cheaper way to pass out garbage cans.

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