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County board could get more control over officials

Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

The Cook County Board wants county officials to keep quiet or pay up for things they ask for from the Legislature.
A proposal to be introduced today by finance committee chairman John Daley would require county officials to pay from their office's budgets for pet programs they lobby for in the Legislature.
"Too many times in the past, people have gone downstate without the county board's approval and passed legislation that had a fiscal impact," Daley (D-Chicago) said. "This is to tighten it up a little more."
The proposal applies to all countywide elected officials -- such as the clerk, the sheriff, members of the board of review or any county department head -- and says they must get prior written consent from the county board before lobbying for anything from the General Assembly.
Officials who do not get consent would be expected to pay the county's increased costs.
Elected officials mostly said they had no problem with Daley's proposal and would be happy to keep working with the county board.
"As a general rule, we don't do anything without the board approval anyway," said Askia Abdullah, spokesman for Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore. "It wouldn't have an impact on this office."
But if Daley and the county's budget department follows through, it could heighten tensions between elected officials and county commissioners, who control their budgets.
Budget squabbles between officials and the board have worsened in recent years as the county budget has tightened. Officials expect a deficit of up to $500 million in the 2007 budget.
Daley's proposal comes on the heels of a warning from board President Bobbie Steele that county officials should cut their budgets by 10 percent for 2007. Most officials have said that's impossible.
The timing of the proposal has nothing to do with Steele's recent announcement, Daley said. He's worried something might happen during the upcoming fall veto session in the Legislature.
"I've been in Springfield, and a bill can pop up any time," said Daley, a former state senator. "I would go down there for what was supposed to be three days, and I'd wind up down there for two weeks. Anything can happen."
Lobbying often has been a point of contention for county officials and the board. The board voted two years ago to consolidate all lobbying after embarrassing revelations that the county board was paying some lobbyists to advocate a bill that other officials were paying lobbyists to help defeat.
But officials still push for legislation on their own or with their senior staff, Daley said, and the county taxpayers end up footing the bill for any new programs.
"Hopefully, they realize the situation we're in financially," Daley said. "We've had big problems."


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