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Claypool rips Stroger's budget plan

Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

The former standard-bearer for reform in Cook County is slamming board President Todd Stroger's proposal to cut 17 percent across the board from the county budget, calling it dangerous, lacking in leadership and "budgeting for dummies."
Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), who ran for the president seat in last year's Democratic primary, said the president instead should make tough decisions, cut some departments more than others and focus on high-paid employees at the top.
"I see this as a strategy to protect the political class," Claypool said of Stroger's budget-cutting plan.
Stroger's office said it agreed with Claypool in principle but didn't think the commissioner's rant in front of the TV cameras was helpful.
"To the extent that public safety and public health are parts of our core mission, we are in agreement," Stroger spokesman Steve Mayberry said. "We are not in agreement that at a time when we were in discussion with department heads, that it's good to criticize those discussions."
Claypool accused Stroger of failing to lead. He said public health and safety functions must be preserved and other county services may need severe cuts to compensate. Offices such as the recorder of deeds may need to be cut as much as 50 percent, he said.
"This is what the president was elected to do," Claypool said. "He sought this job, he wanted this job, he says he'll lead; this is not leadership. It takes no thought whatsoever to cut across the board."
Stroger has said the 17 percent is open to negotiation, and he will give some officials credit if they've cut in past years.
The county faces a $502 million budget gap for 2007, and Stroger proposed the across-the-board cut last month as a way to avoid tax increases. County officials have so far mostly refused to comply and many have warned of dire consequences, such as abandoned patients and increases in crime.
Claypool echoed some of those warnings and said Stroger instead should focus on waste at the top. Claypool reissued a report he put out during his campaign, highlighting the 1,682 employees at Cook County who make more than $60,000 a year.
But Claypool says he hasn't updated those numbers in more than a year and even cutting all such high-paid employees only would save about $101 million -- far less than needed. He declined to issue specific budget suggestions, saying it was Stroger's job to do so.
"Only the executive has access to the information needed," Claypool said.
Stroger's office announced Tuesday it has received letters of resignation from all 500 Shakman-exempt, top-level employees under Stroger's control and will start culling those who don't pull their weight.
"The president ... will conduct a thorough review of what people are doing and what their job descriptions are," Mayberry said. "If those two are not one in the same, or if those people are not performing at high levels ... they'll be fired."

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