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Fed-up taxpayers don't trust Stroger

Sunday, March 02, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

Todd Stroger thought he faced a budget crisis. He did not. It's so much worse than that.

Stroger faced -- and will continue to face, despite a last-minute deal early Saturday -- a monumental crisis of confidence.

Stroger faced -- and will continue to face, despite a last-minute deal early Saturday -- a monumental crisis of confidence.

Too many fed-up Cook County taxpayers simply don't trust President Stroger and his allies on the county board to spend their money wisely and efficiently. The evidence to the contrary -- that the county blows tax revenue on padded payrolls, foolish frills and unnecessary outside contractors -- is overwhelming. Until Stroger and the board address this crisis of confidence -- by actions, not words -- taxpayers and reformers will continue to doubt every move he makes.

Too many fed-up Cook County taxpayers simply don't trust President Stroger and his allies on the county board to spend their money wisely and efficiently. The evidence to the contrary -- that the county blows tax revenue on padded payrolls, foolish frills and unnecessary outside contractors -- is overwhelming. Until Stroger and the board address this crisis of confidence -- by actions, not words -- taxpayers and reformers will continue to doubt every move he makes.

People are tired of being played for suckers.

"The key to getting new revenues for Cook County is to first win the confidence of our citizens that the government is being properly managed," County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said. "Unfortunately, that is not the case in Cook County."

After getting nowhere all week, Stroger and the board reached a compromise to raise the county sales tax from .75 percent to 1.75 percent. The swing vote came from Suffredin, who demanded in return that Stroger give up control of the hospital system to an independent board of outside professionals. The hike gives Chicago the highest sales tax rate among American big cities.

Who could possibly feel sanguine about this when we learn, as we did on Friday, that Stroger has hired his childhood friend, Gene Mullins, to be his public relations chief, at a possible salary of $105,059?

And this is just the latest irritant. There is so much that riles.

Earlier in the week, we learned that the previous chief of the county hospital enjoyed the luxury of a chauffeur, at $57,000 a year. In the typically underhanded manner of county government, the chauffeur was listed on the payroll as a "management analyst."

In Stroger's brief tenure, the county has hired a suburban Democratic committeeman for a $61,000 job in the personnel office -- a job so worthy of elimination that it went unfilled for four years. The county has hired the mayor of Maywood as a supervisor for the Clerk of the Circuit Court at an undisclosed salary.

In October, Stroger hired the girlfriend of one of his closest allies, commissioner William Beavers, as an administrative assistant.

Stroger appointed his father's communications director, Chinta Strausberg, as a liaison to churches at $95,000 a year. He hired his cousin, Donna Dunnings, to be chief financial officer, at $142,820. He hired a personal friend, Kim David Gilmore, to be director of human resources, at $141,725.

Stroger hired the wife of a best friend, Carmen Triche-Colvin, to be the county's purchasing agent, at $116,000. He hired a campaign worker, Sean Howard, to be a spokesman for Cook County Hospital, at $85,000. And Stroger still wants to pay a public relations firm $120,000 for five months to improve the county hospital's image.

Two years ago, Stroger pledged to keep the county's payroll at 22,000 employs. Then he increased it to 23,706. He plans to increase it again to 24,840.

Beginning in November, you'll pay more in taxes for every cup of coffee, refrigerator or car you buy in Cook County.

But don't feel too bad. President Stroger's friends and family thank you.



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