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Workers descend on Markham courthouse

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Daily Southtown
by WILLIAM LEE STaff Writer

The furor over proposed cutbacks in Cook County government’s 2006-07 budget moved south Monday night, as hundreds of disgruntled county workers filled the county courthouse in Markham to oppose the plan.
County Board President Todd Stroger wasn’t among the 13 county commissioners who attended the sometimes raucous meeting in a basement conference room at the courthouse. Tuesday’s meeting was the first of several public hearings on the budget plan.
The sharp cuts in jobs and programs proposed by Stroger to address the county’s financial crisis have drawn strong criticism from department heads and workers. Some in attendance felt they were hoodwinked by Stroger, whom they supported in November’s election.
“We did everything we could to get (Stroger) into office, and this seems like a stab in the back,” said Charles Mickens, pastor of the Lights of Zion Church on Chicago’s South Side.
Mickens was one of about a dozen pastors raising concerns Tuesday about planned cuts in social services. Reducing health care services and the sheriff’s department diversion programs, which are jail alternatives, doesn’t make good fiscal sense, the pastors said.
“The county might have to spend $2 million or $3 million on the program, but you save $20 million by not incarcerating (participants),” said Carl White Jr., pastor of Markham’s Victory Christian Assembly Church.
"You just built a (health) clinic in Ford Heights, now you’re going to shut it down?” White said of the county. “Where are the people who live there who don’t have cars, who don’t have money or good bus transportation, how are they going to get good health care? Somebody’s going to die.”
The evening got off to a rocky start after thousands of people, most of them county workers, poured into the courthouse. Sheriff’s deputies initially closed off the meeting room to the public, including the media, because of a capacity crowd. Eventually, a sign-in plan was implemented, and the doors were opened.
Most of the dissenting county workers were health care employees, many wearing their purple union shirts, with some carrying signs.
Several attending physicians at the affected county medical facilities spoke on the hardships they say will trickle down from the cutbacks to their poor and infirm patients.
“Who will take care of my 22-year-old Hispanic pregnant patient with diabetes?,” Dr. Chance Lawson, of Cottage Grove Health Clinic in Ford Heights, asked the county commissioners. “St. James (Hospital) won’t, they don’t want our public aid patients.”
The Ford Heights clinic is one of 10 county clinics and one of two in the Southland that are on the budgetary chopping block.

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