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Payroll padding will spark opposition

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

Fire! That's what you yell if you want someone to come to your rescue. The Smothers Brothers, in their long-running comedy act, always claimed if you're drowning in a vat of chocolate, it would be stupid to yell, ''Chocolate!'' Who would come? Scream, ''Fire!" they said. That gets people's attention.
In a very real sense, Cook County is on fire. But we when we cry out, "Hospital!" or "Juvenile Detention Center!" -- just two of many four-alarm blazes -- nobody comes running.
Todd Stroger, the new president of the Cook County Board, is for all practical purposes, firefighter in chief. Anointed by Chicago ward bosses to replace his bedridden father, the previous president, on the November ballot, he got elected with the help of a patronage army of county workers who turned out on Election Day because they did not want to lose their government jobs, excellent health care or taxpayer-provided pensions.
Some of them still may.
Stroger initially ordered a 17 percent across the board cut of all county departments from sheriff to state's attorney to the county's hospitals and clinics. It is still unclear where at least $100 million in cuts will come from, but we know that almost 1,500 jobs -- 1,000 of which are already vacant -- would be eliminated, clinics will close, court services will be slashed, and programs at the jail cut.
While Stroger is being commended in some quarters for doing the kind of cost cutting his father never did, others argue he's doing plenty of what his dad always did. That is, packing the budget with his pals. Consider Todd Stroger's new lucky hires along with current, politically connected, highly paid staff he's keeping on.
• • Bruce Washington (primary campaign manager for Todd's dad) -- director of capital planning policy -- $133,424.
• • David Fagus (49th Ward Democratic committeeman) -- was earning $87,479 as executive assistant at Cermak Hospital, now the COO earning $113,703.
• • Matt Deleon (pal of the finally fired Gerald Nichols, unofficial county patronage chief whose records were raided by the FBI) -- jumped from $87,478 as an administrative analyst to a whopping $141,725 as secretary to the Board of Commissioners).
• • Cedric Giles (son of a convicted alderman, relative of a former state rep) -- leaped from a $62,052 accountant to fill a two-year vacancy in the comptroller's office, an arguably non-essential job, with a huge pay boost to $103,187.
Hey, let's not forget Todd's friends and relatives.
• • Donna Dunnings (John Stroger's niece, Todd's cousin) -- remains budget director at a salary of $142,820.
• • Carmen Triche Colvin (wife of Todd's best friend, state Rep. Marlo Colvin) -- promoted from the Forest Preserve to County Purchasing Agent. Former salary, a tidy $95,000. New salary, a tidier $126,670.
• • Monique Martin (Todd's sister-in-law) -- becomes his personal secretary at $64,983.
I could go on and on. Oh, heck, why not?
• • Mark Kilgallon (19th Ward clout) jumped from $141,725 to $159,815, now working as chief administrative officer.
• • Kim Gilmore (close pal of Todd's) -- promoted in human resources from a mere $112,670 to $141,725.
• • Derek Blaida (former Daley aide) --new head of intergovernmental affairs making $130,019.
• • Dwight Welch (mayor of Country Club Hills who recently got a pay raise as mayor) -- also works for Stroger cousin Donna Dunnings in the Budget Office. Nice salary there too: $104,030.
• • Frank Zuccarelli (Thornton Township Democratic committeeman) -- works for recorder of deeds, makes $82,105.
• • Marlo Kemp (former assistant to John Stroger) -- now deputy CFO jumping from $90,228 to $127,423.
There's still more, but I'm running out of room.
I'm not arguing that good people shouldn't earn good salaries. But when you must make the kind of bone-chilling cuts that the county's deficit requires, when you have pledged to slash the unconscionable waste, fraud and patronage that has helped bury us in this budget hole, then you can't, absolutely can't, play patty cake with your pals anymore.
Two weeks ago I took a walk with Stroger through the county hospital that bears his father's name. I wanted to know about the egregiously long lines of poor people who must wait seven, eight, 10 hours to get prescriptions filled. One patient with a breast abscess, another with a heart bypass infection, had to endure a wait of three days for their meds.
How, I asked, was he going to address this health care crisis? President Stroger told me it was going to take some time. He admitted that he wasn't sleeping so well these days, waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about all the things that needed to get done.
He has a very hard job.
He has promised us he's up to the task.
But Stroger will never sell us on that by slashing the budget with one hand while slapping his pals on the back with the other.
Public hearings on the county budget begin in Markham on Tuesday.
There's a fire burning in the county. And it's time to sacrifice some of those cushy administrative jobs to help put it out.



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