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County's priorities

Sunday, February 04, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Forrest Claypool
Letter to the Editor

The Tribune's Jan. 29 editorial "For once, they have to say `No!'" was too forgiving of the flaws in Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's budget proposal.
Stroger leaves in place the fat, featherbedded government long decried in Tribune editorials, while shuttering much of the county's acclaimed neighborhood health clinic system and eliminating everything from the victim-witness program in the prosecutor's office to screening for sexually transmitted diseases at the jail. Why has Todd Stroger targeted front-line workers in public health and safety? It's not because he wants to eliminate a deficit and avoid yet another unnecessary tax increase. No, he must cut these skilled workers in order to avoid cuts in areas he considers vitalóthe bureaucracy where so many of the employees with political sponsors reside.
How else do you explain the deep cuts in the ranks of nurses, doctors, prosecutors, public defenders and police, while an office like the clerk of the Circuit Court is not forced to lay off a single employee? The clerk's office has important functions, but none involves life and safety. How else do you explain the $110,000 communications director who doesn't talk to the press? Or the $70,000-a-year picnic bench inspector, who just happens to be a township committeeman? Why does the Health Bureau still have three public relations departments? Why does Stroger's budget protect a government populated with titles like "coordinator," "director," "analyst," "administrator," "assistant" and "associate"?
I will offer amendments to slice bureaucracy while protecting the neighborhood clinic system that is the front line of the health-care safety net, and the key to the preventive and primary care that saves lives and taxpayer dollars.
As commissioners, we must make health care and public safety our top priorities.
The Tribune is right in demanding commissioners make the tough choices. But the real tough choices involve saving front-line service workers by saying "No!" to the politicians and ward bosses who would lose the paper-pushing jobs held by their relatives, friends and precinct captains. That is the true test of reform.
Forrest Claypool
Cook County

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