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Who ya gonna cut?
It's high-paying political jobs vs. ones that matter

Monday, January 29, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Hour after hour in meetings last week, Cook County officials described the pains of seeing nurses, prosecutors and police slashed from the county budget and wondered how employees will pay the bills while being asked to work a month without a paycheck.
As they talked, taxpayers paid more than $50 an hour to a top aide to board President Todd Stroger -- Chinta Strausberg -- who simply took notes.
Strausberg has a cushy new office and is paid $110,000 a year to be Cook County's communications director, although she hasn't been doing that job for weeks.
Instead, Stroger is using another government body's lower-paid spokesman to do the work -- even though that spokesman, Steve Mayberry, isn't a county employee and continues to be paid as a full-time employee of the Forest Preserve District.
'Worst form of government'
It's the type of personnel move some County Board members say they're tired of discovering as they work through Stroger's budget and promise to wipe out higher-paid jobs to save front-line workers in coming weeks.
"It's one example of thousands in this government where highly paid people are in do-nothing positions, pushing paper all day," Commissioner Forrest Claypool said. "These political jobs are being protected, while we're being asked to fire people who put criminals behind bars, who treat the sick and elderly. It's the worst form of government."
Strausberg, who did not return calls, is in charge of the county's newsletter and cable TV functions as well as special events, Mayberry said.
Mayberry, the Forest Preserve District's $75,000-a-year spokesman, has taken over communications director duties, putting him above Strausberg in the organizational chart. His duties also put him above the county's deputy communications director, John Gibson, although Gibson earns $86,000 a year.
So who is the forest preserves' full-time spokesman while Mayberry works for the county?
"I am," Mayberry said. "I am serving as spokesman for the president at his request and answering media inquiries on behalf of the Forest Preserve District."
Mayberry said Stroger is restructuring offices he controls, including communications, and expects to unveil the changes after the county's $3 billion budget is passed.
'Credibility goes downhill'
In the meantime, commissioners say, they're left wondering what Strausberg does for the salary, how the Forest Preserve District can do without a full-time spokesman and how they can be asked to pass a budget with such glaring inconsistencies while eliminating nurses.
"No front-line workers will go until I can cut out as much middle management as I can," Commissioner Tim Schneider said. "[Stroger] asked us to cut 17 percent, and it seemed noble. But then he employs his friends, protects certain jobs, and his credibility goes downhill."
Today, protesters are expected to pack Daley Center Plaza as unions and others rally before a 10 a.m. hearing on the budget, which must be passed by Feb. 28.
This comes on the heels of multiple public hearings where thousands have decried cuts and the protection of patronage jobs.
Mayberry points to the 20 furlough days Stroger is demanding his staff take -- while still coming to work on those unpaid days -- as evidence he's taking a hit, too.
But Stroger's approach to the budget has been to offer these cuts as ideas and then grant huge leeway to the board to make changes. Stroger, elected on a no-tax pledge, declined to say Friday whether he will veto a tax increase if the board OKs one.
The opportunity to rework the budget has Commissioner Peter Silvestri considering taking revenue from the departments that generate them -- court fees, for example -- and making the funds available for all offices to use.
Commissioners agree that while painful cuts will be unavoidable, they want to see more from Stroger.
"[Stroger] has a difficult task, and I'm supporting him. But he doesn't make it easy," Commissioner Mike Quigley said. "We talk to people about the need for cuts, then he makes the kind of political hires that make headlines."


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