Cook County budget changes challengedCommissioner says Stroger is 'hijacking'
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
by Robert Becker
Three Cook County commissioners on Tuesday called for County Board President Todd Stroger to seek board approval for an estimated $20 million in changes made to the 2007 county budget.
Commissioners Mike Quigley, Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin said that the Stroger administration ignored amendments -- involving in some cases millions of dollars -- to the budget that were approved by the board during the contentious negotiations leading to passage of the county's $3 billion spending plan in February.
"I think this is a hijacking of the Cook County budget," Quigley said at a news conference after the board's regularly scheduled meeting.
Quigley cited a Cook County state's attorney's office opinion that the County Board has the power to amend the budget once adopted.
"We're asking the president to come back, as he's required to under the law, and seek approval for any changes he might have made to this budget after it was duly approved by the county of Cook," Quigley said.
Administration officials, however, disputed that Stroger's budget officials made "significant" alterations to the 2007 budget.
Richard Velazquez, special assistant to Stroger, said the changes "were due to inconsistencies" in the $3 billion budget. Velazquez cited the 127 amendments submitted by commissioners as a partial reason for some of the budgetary alterations.
"The changes are not substantive in nature," Velazquez said. "They are actually in line with what the intent of the board was in passing the annual appropriations bill for this year."
But Quigley and his colleagues said the modifications were anything but minor or reflective of board intent.
Quigley said his amendment to the budget calling for an additional $1.4 million for the assessor's office was deleted -- despite having been approved by the board.
Quigley called the unauthorized changes a violation of both the board's rules and state law. He also asserted that the Stroger administration used the changes to "protect people they'd like to protect and get rid of people they'd like to get rid of."
Stroger officials dismissed Quigley's charges that the changes were being used as a reward or punishment.
Nor would they address specific changes to the budget.
"I don't know what the commissioner is talking about," Velazquez said.