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Cook County commissioners want to bar president from also serving on board

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Most 8th graders know the executive and legislative branches of government are separate—a concept that for more than a century has escaped those who ran Cook County.

That may change, after the County Board yesterday voted by a narrow margin to changes its rules so candidates cannot run for both a commissioner’s seat and the president’s post. Whether Board President Todd Stroger will sign the measure, which was opposed by his allies, is not yet known.

Stroger ran in 2006 for just the president’s post. William Beavers is the commissioner in the 4th District, where Stroger lives. Beavers said today he does not yet know whether he will run again next year, when Stroger will be up for re-election as board president.

John Stroger, Todd Stroger's late father, was both president and 4th District commissioner. John Stroger’s pedecessor, Richard Phelan, also held both posts.

The practice dates back to the late 19th century, said Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who has researched the history of Cook County government.

Burt Odelson, one of Stroger’s attorneys and a local government expert, noted township supervisors run day-to-day operations and vote at township meetings.

In the commissioner form of government once practiced in many Illinois towns, commissioners both ran government departments and served on the town board. In Cicero, which has the town form of government, some trustees hold administrative posts.

Those examples, Odelson said, shows Cook County’s government as practiced for generations “is not unique at all.”

Nevertheless, Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park), a sponsor of the change approved yesterday, said it makes more sense to separate legislative and executive duties in the county.

“I think it’s much fairer and more efficient for the president to be outside of the legislative body,” Silvestri said.

Trying to serve both the whole county, as president, and a single district, as commissioner, also could pose conflicts, he added.

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