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The Cook County jobs machine

Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Chicago Tribune

Citizens owe a big debt of thanks to cynical public officials and entrenched bureaucrats in Cook County government. No, certainly not because of the egregious property tax bills now coming due. We're referring to a news report that Cook County insiders once again lied about their self-serving waste of scarce tax dollars.

This is knowledge voters need as they prepare to vote for a new County Board president.

Knowledge voters need as they hear county officials whine about their shortage of revenue.

Knowledge voters need as they pay those property taxes. Because all that tax money helps to prop up this deceitful government.

On Sunday the Chicago Sun-Times reported that in the four-plus months after Stroger was incapacitated by a stroke on March 14, Cook County added almost 1,300 new hires to its payroll. This occurred during a hiring freeze.

Among those hires: Stroger's campaign manager, Bruce Washington, and Summer Whigham, the daughter of Stroger's chief of staff, James Whigham.

Chumped voters have heard this song before. The Tribune reported last year that the allegedly cash-strapped Cook County hired 2,722 permanent workers and 1,009 temporary workers during 18 months of, yes, a county hiring freeze.

If Stroger's successor, interim board President Bobbie Steele, needed further evidence of why no one trusts county government, these revelations suffice. The question now is whether Steele will respond just by sliding whoever was responsible for this latest travesty from one job to another--her preferred modus operandi--rather than doing what happens in the real world.

President Steele, you need to fire, not merely relocate to other comfy jobs, every county employee whose serial hiring offenses have ripped off Cook County taxpayers. You wanted to be the boss. So be the boss. No more leaky executive orders. Jobs are the only currency that matters in county government. And until you start taking them away from your employees who misled taxpayers, no one can take you seriously.

And where is Ald. Todd Stroger's outrage at the conduct of the government he wants to lead? Stroger's Republican challenger for the board presidency, Commissioner Tony Peraica, wants federal oversight of county hiring, just as City Hall hiring is subject to federal oversight.

Let's posit that some of these hires were necessary to guard county prisoners or treat patients who rely on county health care. But as County Board members now demand explanations, they need to ask how many of these hires were critical and thus exempt from the freeze. And how many hires were patronage, based on the smug assumption that because John Stroger survived a March primary challenge, and his son Todd has replaced him on the November general election ballot, it's steady as she goes at Cook County.

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