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Can he deliver?
Stroger's sold most of the board on the idea that cuts must come.

Monday, January 22, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

For months on the campaign trail, Todd Stroger made promises of all that he would do if elected Cook County Board president.
Six weeks into the job, he's presented a $3 billion budget and made key personnel decisions.
So how have the actions matched up to the campaign rhetoric?
He's held firm to his promise not to raise taxes.
But he's done little to eliminate the bloat of county government, as his budget calls for layoffs of just a portion of the county's payroll, while he has hired close friends for key jobs, given pay raises to others and made hardly any changes among those who ran the county for his father, former Board President John Stroger.
Todd Stroger vowed to keep Provident Hospital open, and after hospital leaders recommended its closure, he replaced those leaders.
But he also promised to cut jail costs by expanding alternative sentencing and diversionary programs -- programs now being shut down or gutted by Stroger's proposed budget.
Among the key campaign promises he's trying to keep:
•  No tax increase. Stroger was able to keep that promise with this year's budget, but it'll be tough to adhere to that for four years, given the blowback from this year's cuts. Like his father before him, Stroger appears committed to keeping the property tax levy flat, but could eventually turn to alternative taxes for funds.
•  End "business as usual." Stroger continues to fight a federal consent decree aimed at curbing political hiring, most recently trying to limit the abilities of a hiring monitor. Though he's asked for the resignations of 500 politically appointed employees, most of whom were close to his father, most still remain, as Stroger reviews job performance and whether to accept those resignations. He dumped his father's patronage chief, Gerald Nichols -- not as soon as he was elected, as he promised, but instead waiting until after Christmas.
•  Create a powerful, independent inspector general. Stroger teamed with Commissioner Mike Quigley to introduce this plan, now in committee, where the tedious and difficult task begins of making it work as well as it has for the city. But the county's office has just three investigators and would need a huge increase to make a difference in Cook County -- a tall order amid other cuts.
•  Force all county offices to start budgets at zero dollars and justify all expenses by focusing on core missions. Stroger's budget speech included several references to this campaign promise. He says it's a sign of his commitment to finding all efficiencies in the county.
•  Be a consensus-builder who transparently manages government. Stroger managed to get a majority of board members to back his budget cuts before seeing them. The budget has cost him some support, but he's sold most of the board on the idea that cuts must come. And Stroger has opened himself up to criticism for a lack of transparency -- no county officials saw his budget until Tuesday.
• "Make tough decisions," empower department heads to "get the job done" and apply "greater fiscal control over" the county's elected offices. Stroger's hospital chief tried cutting Provident's budget in half and making county health services available only to county residents, but saw his cost-savings plans shut down by Stroger. The residents-only plan could come back. Though Stroger slashed the budgets of separately elected offices, he didn't provide them with any roadmaps, giving many of them millions of dollars to cut themselves. He promises specific cutting plans on Tuesday.
•  Provide access to quality health care. Critics say Stroger's plan to close clinics will limit access, but Stroger said many services will simply shift to other facilities.
•  Consolidate administrative functions at hospitals. His budget doesn't show it, but he says he'll amend it later to show a consolidation of personnel and public-relations functions.
•  Enhance hospital revenue collection. That plan stumbled out of the gates, as Stroger balanced the budget with a promise that ACS Inc.--a billing agency--would collect $43 million this year alone for the county. But a Nevada scandal and reports ACS cost a hospital there millions have caused concern.
•  Provide a "sensible approach to public safety" and expand "use of diversionary programs." Ask Sheriff Tom Dart and State's Attorney Richard Devine, and they'll say Stroger's budget is anything but sensible. There are cuts to diversionary programs, police patrols, court services and prosecutors -- with millions more in cuts to come Tuesday. Stroger said any new sheriff's hires would be offset by a reduction in other workers, and Friday, Dart posted letters giving notice of layoff plans.
•  New juvenile center superintendent and the resignations of all appointed employees there. There has been no major shakeup at the embattled center, and director J.W. Fairman remains. Fairman and the others have offered resignations, but none has been accepted yet.
Plans to shift control to Chief Judge Tim Evans are in place, and a new leader is supposed to be in place this summer.


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