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Getting through to Stroger & Co.*

Friday, October 19, 2007
Chicago Tribune

Many of you tried Thursday to tell Todd Stroger what you think of his proposal to raise some $890 million a year in new revenue from sales, gasoline and parking taxes. And many of you told us you couldn't get through. Funny, the line was busy.

Our advice, keep trying.

Remember, the Cook County Board president said Wednesday that he's not hearing from citizens upset by his revenue plans. In his mind, raising taxes equates with making hard decisions -- when, in fact, raising taxes is the easy decision Cook County government loves to make. Making hard decisions? That would involve Stroger telling the Democratic bosses and their patronage hacks that Cook County has more than enough money already -- and must slash spending, not raise it.

If you want Stroger to hear your thoughts on his tax hike plans, keep trying to call him at 312-603-6400. If that's busy, call 312-603-5500.

Or fax him at 312-443-4397.

We asked for an e-mail address, but his staff didn't provide one. So you can write Todd Stroger at:

118 N. Clark St., Room 537

Chicago, IL 60602


The truth, of course, is that many Cook County officials hope you'll be a good little taxpayer and keep quiet. Many of these folks think you shouldn't have a voice in how many tax dollars they collect, or how that money gets spent.

Consider: By our count, the public gallery in the County Board meeting room has 89 seats. But citizens who want to attend meetings often find many of those seats marked "Reserved" by county employees -- and elected county officials -- who want to stroll in any time they please. Some officials send "placeholder" employees to assure that their seats are waiting and warm. If you've attended many of these meetings, you've seen the gallery seats largely filled with payrollers -- while a few citizens (and still more payrollers!) stand across the back of the boardroom.

We watched, appalled, before Wednesday's County Board session as various county flunkies told Sonja Giles that she had to vacate three different seats to make room for official fannies. Giles, who had come to take notes for her union on Stroger's budget address, was frustrated but very polite -- and finally found a fourth seat.

County officials don't much like the news media, but they can't blame us for this space shortage. It's not unusual to see close to 20 reporters and broadcast crew members sardined into a workspace the size of an ordinary bedroom.

Some county employees do need to attend meetings: A few commissioners deploy aides to fetch information mid-debate. But Stroger's regime often has enough bureaucrats on hand to start a pickup football league.

Our risk in mentioning this is that, given county government's mind-set, some Strogerite will suggest ... building a new and larger boardroom. So here's a modest proposal:

Every citizen of Chicago is a citizen of Cook County. Thus the Cook County Board should share the larger Chicago City Council chamber located in the same building. There's reverse precedent: the city's Board of Elections has used the County Board room for its sessions.

City and county officials will moan that this just isn't proper, and that there would be scheduling conflicts, and so on. Baloney.

The overarching truth here is that citizens should have a bigger voice in Cook County government. And part of that means giving citizens access to the County Board. Think of this as one unorthodox step toward the many efficiencies that our city and county governments need to make -- if they want to regain the public trust that cronyism and corruption have squandered.

If you're angered that the Chicago City Council chamber can sit vacant while, nearby, citizens sometimes can't squeeze into the County Board room (let alone find unreserved seats), feel free to tell Todd Stroger about that too.


* And stay tuned. After the 17 County Board members have a chance to study Stroger's budget, you'll have an opportunity to contact those who may lean toward increasing your taxes.

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