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Todd Stroger's PR blitz
COUNTY BOARD | Critic blasts president for adding consultant even though he has a staff that costs more than $1 million

Monday, April 07, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger already spends more than $1 million a year on public relations, but that apparently isn't enough.

Stroger is set to bring on a p.r. consultant, records show, to help improve his image and that of the hospital system he runs.

But one critic wonders why Stroger needs outside consultants, as he's got 15 employees on his p.r. staff now, and an independent board will take over hospital operations in just a few weeks.

"Of the multitude of problems facing the health bureau, p.r. is the least of them," said Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association. "President Stroger should save the money, no matter how difficult that may be for the administration, and let the independent board decide how to use the money on things like actual health care services."

Stroger spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi wouldn't say what Stroger plans to spend on the consultant, or where the money will come from. Nine people responded to Stroger's request for proposals soliciting bids for the p.r. contract. Antongiorgi said the consultant will report to Stroger and his communications chief, Gene Mullins.

Mullins is taking a one-year leave from his city police job to work for Stroger, a childhood friend.

Antongiorgi said the contract is important, since "it is critical that we communicate with our poor and uninsured, letting them know what services are available to them."

Though five p.r. staffers are dedicated to health and hospital issues, she said the new consultant will begin "a comprehensive and strategic media outreach plan. We want to regain and maintain the confidence of our patients and residents."

Stroger's p.r. staff is larger than that of many other county governments across the country, records show, but it's hardly the most expensive.

Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan's communications chief, Lucio Guerrero, makes more than $120,000, though he said he's also in charge of about a dozen people, heading up outreach and research.

Stroger's top p.r. staffer, Mullins, is budgeted to be paid $105,059 -- and Stroger still employs all of his former spokesmen in other, comparably salaried positions.

"The need for yet another p.r. consultant or staffer for President Stroger is ridiculous," Stewart said.

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