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Taxpayers paying for county trip to Hawaii

Thursday, June 09, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Cook County taxpayers will be paying for County Board President John Stroger, as many as seven commissioners and more than a dozen of their staff members to spend a week in Hawaii. Some say next month's National Association of County Officials (NACO) meeting will provide them with valuable insights on how other county governments are operating. Others say it's little more than a vacation at taxpayers' expense, coming just months after residents dodged a tax increase to cover county spending. And one commissioner who will likely participate insists that the trip will be "torture." Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who isn't attending, said, "This will be a hard one to explain to taxpayers. It's hard to justify." While some county commissioners are taking staff members, others are taking their families along. 'A lot more pleasure than pain' Most county representatives to the event will see their airfares, hotel rooms, conference registration fees and daily meal allowances paid for by taxpayers -- at a cost of about $2,000 each. Stroger will take his wife and five staffers, while about seven commissioners and some of their relatives and staff will join them. "I don't attend [NACO meetings] regularly, but it's a rare occurrence to have a meeting in Honolulu," said Commissioner Jerry Butler, who will attend with two staffers. "I'll probably get a lot of information I may never use, but a lot of us will be having a good time that we'd probably never have if we weren't elected to a county office. "I mean, let's be honest and frank about this," Butler said. "This is going to be a lot more pleasure than pain." Stroger's staff will have a booth at the Hawaii Convention Center, hoping to attract visitors to the 2006 NACO conference in Chicago. When commissioners approved a resolution setting Chicago as the 2006 site, the county was also obligated to send some staff to Hawaii to promote Chicago. 'Taunting taxpayers' Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said that because of the high cost of traveling to Hawaii, Stroger decided to limit attendance to five of his staffers, each of whom chairs a planning committee for next year's convention. "Even if someone can show me the value of these conferences," Commissioner Mike Quigley asked, "isn't it almost like taunting the taxpayers to say, during this budget crunch, that this conference in Hawaii is so important?" Commissioners Roberto Maldonado, Joan Murphy, Bobbie Steele, Deborah Sims and some of their staff will attend, as each sits on NACO committees. Cook County Clerk David Orr, who is being sworn in as president of a committee, will also attend with a staffer. Commissioners Carl Hansen, Earlean Collins and Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown each said they're considering going to Hawaii. "I'm in the planning stages, but it won't be all fun on the beach, counting coconuts," according to Hansen. "Flying eight or nine hours for someone 6-foot-6 like me is not too desirable -- it's actually torture."


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