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Suit targets TB district perks

Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County prosecutors will appear in court today trying to block an obscure county agency from lavishing golden parachutes on employees and board members before it is abolished.

The Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District had planned to dole out more than a million dollars in compensation and retirement benefits at its meeting this week. But State's Attorney Richard Devine filed an unusual lawsuit Monday to halt them, claiming the plan is illegal.

Devine further alleges that board president Terrance Carr -- who is also the Willow Springs mayor -- has been improperly receiving health insurance at taxpayer expense.

Stroger wants district gone

The perks were revealed last month by the Chicago Sun-Times and are set for a vote Wednesday. They come as the district -- which spends about $6 million a year treating a little more than 100 new TB cases a year -- is likely to be dissolved.

State legislators are moving toward eliminating it as a taxing district in light of Civic Federation and Sun-Times reports of wasteful spending.

District officials have responded by drafting a plan to provide employees with up to six months in pay after termination, with health insurance available for life.

That includes Carr, even though as board president he "is prohibited from receiving" perks like insurance, the state's attorney's office says. Records show he's been getting insurance anyway and "could continue to receive such health care" even after his board appointment is over if the perks are approved Wednesday, according to the lawsuit.

Carr would be the swing vote on the plan, which would pose a conflict of interest, Devine added. Carr leads a 3-2 board majority that favors keeping the district a taxing body separate from the county health department.

County Board President John Stroger, who appoints all five board members, says he wants to eliminate the district.

With momentum building in the General Assembly, district officials have been pushing for the going-away perks, which Civic Federation president Laurence Msall called "gratuitous and unnecessary" with no evidence of "public benefit or public interest."

Controversy over spending

Devine's suit, brought by his deputy Patrick Driscoll and assistant Maureen Hannon, says the TB board "lacks the authority to propose or vote on" the perks.

The perks are the latest controversy to hit the district, long run by Dr. James Gallai, a vigorous defender of the district and its spending.

Reached Monday night, he declined comment. District attorneys could not be reached.

Gallai, Carr and other district leaders have been under fire since 2003, when the Civic Federation released a scathing study showing district spending was not in line with other TB care providers.

Last year, the Sun-Times found more questionable spending, including this year's 200 percent increase in spending on attorneys and 342 percent increase for marketing.

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