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Frivolous spending sets a bad example

Friday, April 13, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

Todd Stroger, the Cook County Board president, invited plenty of criticism in February when he nominated his cousin to be the county's chief financial officer. He assured everyone that Donna Dunnings Lewis was the best person for the job in the entire country, although he didn't seem to search any further than his own family. Commissioner Forrest Claypool called the nomination "nepotism at its worst," while the head of a nurses union -- which lost more than 100 jobs as part of much-needed budget cuts -- called it "obscene."
Did Stroger let that criticism deter him? On the contrary. He compounded the arrogance by renovating an office for Lewis and painting her name on the door before she was even confirmed to the $142,820-a-year post by the County Board -- which is by no means assured, as Stroger well knows. Only after Sun-Times reporter Steve Patterson started asking questions about the office Wednesday did her name get scraped off the door. A Stroger spokesman explained, "It was a mistake."
It certainly was. And it wasn't the first one. We've been criticizing Stroger since he took office for giving jobs and raises to friends and relatives. Such moves would look bad even if the county wasn't in the middle of a fiscal crisis. They look terrible and shameless given the fact that the county sliced hundreds of prosecutors, police, nurses and other front-line jobs to balance its budget.
Stroger, however, thinks we're guilty of sensationalizing his management hires and downplaying the sacrifices they have made to help balance the budget, which include unpaid furloughs. He says we're pitting white-collar workers against union workers. He says the real news from his budget is that he held the line on taxes while covering a $503 million budget gap.
We've said that budget was a step in the right direction, but there were and still are troubling signs that too much fat and patronage survived at the expense of front-line services. And that is the point of highlighting Stroger's questionable moves. How can he justify spending $100,000 for a new director of public affairs, for example, when the county is cutting nurses from hospitals, and prosecutors from courtrooms? Where does he even find money to renovate the office that he hopes to give to his cousin, if the county is in such dire straits that police must be cut?
Stroger doesn't get it. He doesn't know or doesn't care that spending money on unessential jobs, promotions or programs takes money away from essential ones. And he clearly doesn't see any value in setting a frugal example.

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