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Steele resigns to double pension
She wants her son to get board seat

Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Outgoing Cook County Board President Bobbie Steele on Tuesday resigned the county commissioner seat she was re-elected to earlier this month, a move that will let her double her annual pension.

Steele, 69, now hopes to hand off her commissioner seat to her son Robert, a Chicago Park District administrator.
Bobbie Steele was picked in July to fill the unexpired term of former President John Stroger, who retired after suffering a stroke a week before his March primary victory. At that time, Steele said she would not run for a full term as president but would return for a sixth term as commissioner if re-elected in November.

But by not returning as just a commissioner, Steele will collect a retirement benefit based on the president's $170,000 annual salary instead of the $85,000 salary of a commissioner. The move will boost her annual pension to $136,000 a year.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) said Steele deceived voters and exploited the county's pension loophole, which bases benefits on the final salary instead of an average of the last years of service.

"It's another example of politicians' rigging the pension system for their benefit," said Claypool, who lost to Stroger in the primary.

Steele, who has served on the board since 1986, declined to comment Tuesday. She is scheduled to address the media Wednesday.

Her resignation is effective Thursday, but incoming board President Todd Stroger, John Stroger's son, is not slated to be sworn in until Monday, leaving the county without a chief executive for four days.

The Democratic ward committeemen of Steele's district, which covers portions of Chicago's West and South Sides, are expected to meet next week to select her replacement.

Chicago Ald. Michael Chandler, who is also the Democratic committeemen of the 24th Ward, expects they will choose Steele's son.

"I let her know that I would support her son," said Chandler, who has the largest weighted vote among the 18 committeemen in the district. "I think Robert will get the nod. He's a good man."

Robert Steele said Tuesday that he would not discuss the situation in detail until he talks about it with his mother. He did say that he was "very interested" in replacing her on the County Board.

Steele had said she hoped to craft a 2007 budget before her four-month appointment as president expired, a key task that she failed to complete. She did produce a report from her transition team that made a variety of recommendations for the next board president to consider.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), an early Steele supporter for the presidency, said two of Steele's most significant accomplishments are yet to come. On Wednesday, during a special board meeting, commissioners are expected to vote on a restructuring of the county's scandal-plagued jobs training program and a strengthening of provisions that bar politics from playing a role in personnel decisions.

"She's worked 20 years. She's entitled to whatever the law gives her," Suffredin said. "I don't begrudge her receiving that."

Steele already receives a pension of about $13,000 a year as a retired schoolteacher.

Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said state lawmakers need to eliminate all pension loopholes.

"To a large extent, how do you blame President Steele for doing this?" Quigley said. "Clearly, people knew what they were doing when they left these loopholes in there."

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