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Forest preserve district adds new 'boss'

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Daily Southtown
by Kristin McQueary

If you've spent time with Cook County Forest Preserve Supt. Steve Bylina, you would know he doesn't need "enforcers."

Bylina is the district superintendent hired to whip into shape a government that faced unprecedented deficits and a reputation for patronage grandeur.

Watchdog groups have praised Bylina's performance so far. Not only has he addressed tangible problems, like replacing the forest preserves' old wooden outhouses, he keeps a wall-sized chart in his office to track employees and minimize ghost-payrolling potential.

But as critics of the system say, Bylina's power only goes so far. He still answers to County Board President John Stroger, and Stroger controls dozens of jobs on the forest preserve payroll. They are the "exempt" employees hired directly by the president, many times as "liaisons" or "field guys."

The quotes around these words aren't by accident: They are code for "patronage."

That doesn't mean Stroger appointees don't work for their money. Many do.

But they didn't get their jobs through a help-wanted ad, either, and you can bet they aren't sitting around watching "Survivor" during election season.

Recently, Stroger hired Palos Township Democratic committeeman Sam Simone as a $72,000-a-year assistant to Bylina, even though Bylina didn't request the help. Simone filled a job that had been vacant since September 2000.

Obviously the forest district, with far fewer workers to oversee than four years ago, was humming along fine without the position being filled. And the forest district is seeking a tax hike from Cook County property owners, yet found the money for another manager. This, on top of a "liaison" who already gets paid generously to serve as an intermediary between Stroger's office and the forest district.

Before Simone's new position at the forest preserve, he served as a business liaison to Secretary of State Jesse White. He and a handful of other Democratic officials held $40,000-a-year jobs that involved little work. Theoretically, they were supposed to advise local businesses of the services available through White's office. But White finally cut their positions after a series of embarrassing Daily Southtown stories outed the bogus program.

Meanwhile, Simone is working with a slate of candidates running for Palos Township offices. Among them is Colleen Schumann, wife of former Republican Cook County board member Herb Schumann, who now works as a finance director under Stroger after losing his seat to Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman.

Colleen Schumann will run for township supervisor.

The Republican organization in Palos Township, led by Anne Zickus, has not yet announced who it will run.

But it will be interesting to watch how much Democratic Cook County money flows to Simone's slate ó and how he manages to split his time between his "field" work in the forest district and his committeeman post.

Grimm encouraged by numbers

Krista Grimm of LaGrange Park, who launched a last-minute write-in campaign in the 3rd Congressional District against Dan Lipinski, surpassed presidential candidate Ralph Nader's vote total in suburban Cook County during the Nov. 2 election.

Grimm got 5,071 votes in suburban Cook and 505 votes in the city portion of the 3rd Congressional District. She received only a handful of votes in the 11th and 18th wards but got 67 votes in the 13th Ward, 162 votes in Lipinski's 23rd Ward and 264 votes in the 19th Ward where she lived for about five years until moving to LaGrange Park.

Nader received only 292 write-in votes in all of suburban Cook County.

Grimm decided at the last minute to launch a mostly Internet-based campaign after Lipinski's candidacy was neatly engineered by his outgoing father in August. She said at the time she would consider challenging the newly elected U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski in the 2006 Democratic primary.

With those numbers, she just might.

Grumpy old men

A fellow reporter who covers Cook County government joked during last week's meeting that exchanges between board President John Stroger and Commissioner Carl Hansen (R-Mount Prospect) often resemble scenes from the film "Grumpy Old Men."

While Hansen was grumbling into his microphone about parliamentary procedure, Stroger told him to "turn up his hearing aid."

During another comic moment, Commissioner Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside) calmly explained that he "stopped drinking coffee, so I don't get upset anymore" at board meetings.

(Pause)

"So what are you drinking now?" Hansen asked as laughter erupted.

"You need Quaaludes around here, I swear," Peraica said.

Amen, Brother Peraica.



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