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  Last year more people used the County's forest preserves than visited Yellowstone National Park.

Lake County commissioner defends trip to Hawaii

Monday, June 13, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Lake County Board Member Angelo Kyle, president of the National Association of Counties, is defending his Cook County counterparts, who are taking heat for having taxpayers pay for them to attend next month's annual convention in Honolulu.

"President [John] Stroger is a former president of NACo," Kyle said. "All former presidents usually attend the conference. I just wanted to call and defend my colleagues to the south."

Kyle is one of eight Lake County commissioners and an undetermined number of staffers attending the event.

Stroger and five staffers, along with many Cook County commissioners and county elected officials such as Clerk David Orr, plan to attend.

Stroger goes even when the conference is held in less glamorous locales such as Phoenix, and his staff members don't bring their golf clubs because they're working the whole time, they say.

This year, Stroger's administrative staff must attend because Chicago will be hosting next year's NACo convention, bringing $5 million in tourism dollars to Chicago.

That's a good return on $10,000 to send five people to Hawaii, Stroger said in a meeting he called Friday to defend the trip. But it's county taxpayers, not Chicago hotel owners, making that investment, and the cost is higher when other commissioners and their staffs are factored in.

Stroger has no control over other county elected officials and their budgets, he said.

The organization has been an important force in fighting the Bush administration's attempts to change Medicaid rules, which could cost Cook County $200 million a year. That's one of the top issues Stroger and his staff will be working on in Honolulu, Stroger said.

Conference topics

The schedule is full of caucuses, and issues include: "The loss of federal entitlement benefits for the mentally ill in county jails," "Solving the high cost of prescription drugs for your citizens," and, one particularly useful for Cook County Board members: "Courage under fire -- staying cool when the media turns up the heat."

Stroger will only charge the county for the cost of a coach ticket for himself. He'll pay for the upgrade to first-class.

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