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On Web, Stroger argues his case for county budget cuts
Claypool joins foes of spending plan

Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger took to the Internet to push for budget cuts while another critic emerged Tuesday in a growing public relations battle over county spending.

Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool said Stroger's directive for an across-the-board budget cut of 17 percent would protect bureaucrats and patronage workers while sacrificing front-line health and law enforcement employees.
"It takes no thought whatsoever to cut across the board," said Claypool (D-Chicago). "Real leadership demands that you set priorities, that you cut the waste and that you protect vital services."

Claypool helped lead the call for a 2 percent budget cut three years ago at the county but on Tuesday he said the circumstances were different.

Stroger, who was elected in November, has vowed to close a projected $500 million deficit without raising taxes. County officials have publicly warned of potential service cuts since Stroger announced his directive two weeks ago.

Late last week, Stroger posted the county's first-ever video press release on the government's Web site (www.cookcountygov.com) to outline his stance on the budget. While Stroger talks, music plays and images of $1 and $100 bills float in the background.

The tactic showed Stroger's willingness to harness media in a way that his father, John Stroger, rarely did as board president.

"These cuts are essential and will help minimize the disruption of services to our constituents and put Cook County on a more solid fiscal foundation," Stroger says in the video.

The administration plans to introduce the budget to the County Board the week of Jan. 15. State law calls for the budget to be approved by Feb. 28.

In response to Claypool, Stroger spokesman Steve Mayberry said Stroger was showing leadership with his approach and disagreed that an across-the-board budget cut would protect patronage workers.

"The bottom line is it doesn't protect anyone," Mayberry said. "What we have asked department heads to do and the independent elected officials is based on their operations and what they know of their departments to get creative and come up with the 17 percent solution."

Mayberry pointed to Public Defender Edwin Burnette, an appointee of the president's office, who last week altered his earlier stance and said he could meet the 17 percent budget cut while laying off no more than 50 public defenders.

The Stroger administration worked with Burnette, and Mayberry said their budget team is ready to work with all of the other officials, too.

Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said Stroger's approach may be a bad way to tackle the budget but given the county's financial condition and the short time frame, Stroger has little choice. Quigley said Stroger must be willing to compromise as talks unfold, but he commended Stroger's hard-line posture as a way to force other county officials to curb spending.

"I think he's showing leadership by not pressing for new taxes and by waking these sleeping elected officials from their doldrums that they're not going to get more money every year," said Quigley, a Claypool ally serving on Stroger's transition team.

Also Tuesday, the Stroger administration announced that Gerald Nichols, the county's controversial former patronage chief who had been placed on leave, left the payroll Dec. 31 as Stroger had said he would.



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