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Furlough days and political frays

Sunday, April 15, 2007
Daily Southtown

What would you say if your boss forced you to take a day off, unpaid?
No problem. Give me a balmy June afternoon. I can already hear the tinkling strains of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."
But what if your boss made you to take 10 days off, unpaid, by Nov. 30?
That's what Cook County is demanding of its employees under the 2007 budget agreement struck in February. President Todd Stroger's office sent a memo last week outlining the perimeters for the forced furlough, which his budgeteers estimate will save the county $6.98 million. The furlough days are to be scheduled "in a manner that will not negatively affect the delivery of county services," the memo says.
All nonunion employees in 38 divisions under the president will be affected, according to Stroger spokesman Steve Mayberry.
(A conflicting memo dated last Wednesday, however, indicates Stroger may attempt to force unionized workers to take furlough days as well. The unions are threatening to file a grievance).
These requests -- no, demands -- might be a little easier for county workers to swallow if not for the in-your-face examples of questionable patronage workers still lingering on the county payroll, or the high-ranking Grade 24 positions Stroger created in the midst of a budget crisis.
Take the installation of Valerie Holden at the Bureau of Information Technology. Holden is the daughter of former Commissioner Bobbie Steele and the sister of Commissioner Robert Steele, who took his mom's seat when she retired with an obscene pension last fall.
Holden showed up at the bureau recently as a top-level employee earning more than $100,000 but doesn't have a whole lot of responsibility, I'm told. Complaints abound of similarly "connected" county employees being stuffed into various departments.
Stroger's aides say the furlough days are mandatory, and necessary, or county workers will face more cuts.
As for the budget itself, commissioners, the media and the public still are awaiting from Stroger a final tally of who was cut and who was kept. It's been 35 business days since the Feb. 23 vote. Thirty-five and counting.
Election fits
Tuesday is D-Day for hundreds of local races. The complaints of nefarious electioneering, back-stabbing, sign-stealing and vote-baiting have poured into the Southtown.
 In Orland Park, challenger Dave Wagner hopes to unseat one of three village board incumbents -- Patricia Gira, Bernard Murphy and Ed Schussler, who are endorsed by Mayor Dan McLaughlin.
Not only is landfill operator John Einoder on Wagner's campaign committee, so is Milan Petrovic. Petrovic was a top fund-raiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich after losing his law license in Indiana. He parlayed his relationship with Blagojevich into a number of lucrative lobbying contracts -- giving ammunition, and a few headlines, to Blagojevich's "pay to play" critics.
 In Chicago Ridge, trustee candidate Mike Davies accused park district President Rob Pratl of using the district's registry of program participants to send an endorsement letter for his brother, incumbent Don Pratl. If he did it, it would be a no-no under state election laws and a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
Don Pratl referred questions to his brother but also scoffed at the accusation, saying Davies' top supporters have been openly campaigning for Davies out of city hall -- also a no-no.
 In Willow Springs, Mayor Alan Nowaczyk is steaming mad at Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica for circulating a letter supporting trustee candidate Steve Krueger. In the letter, Peraica accuses the village's administration -- which he helped elect two years ago -- of being controlled by cronies. Peraica says he has been disappointed in the hiring choices Nowaczyk has made.
Peraica's letter is sure to catapult Nowaczyk into the anti-Peraica camp, which includes Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman. Gorman recently dumped her water bottle onto Peraica's empty chair just before a Cook County Board meeting. Maintenance crews came to the rescue with paper towels.
 Harvey, Country Club Hills, Oak Lawn, Worth and Homer Glen also make the list of election hotspots. Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch was accused of making racist remarks; Oak Lawn incumbent Jerry Hurckes is accused of stalking his opponents; and Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg faces so many allegations of wrongdoing, I simply don't have enough room to elaborate.
Good luck, voters, on Tuesday.

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