Stroger again skirts board approval in payments
Thursday, September 02, 2010
by Ted Cox
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's
administration acknowledged Wednesday that 25 checks worth more than
$6.7 million were paid out before receiving the required board approval.
The board moved to ratify the
transactions retroactively at its scheduled meeting Wednesday, but
Democratic Chicago Commissioner John Daley, head of the finance
committee, said, "I'm very concerned that this is a true violation of
the board's intent."
Chief Financial Officer Jaye
Williams said she could not release the names of the persons who
authorized the checks, as an investigation is ongoing, but she said some
employees had been "removed" from their positions and disciplinary
measures were being "contemplated."
Stroger attributed the "mistake" to
"human error," calling it "more of an issue of you pressed a button when
you shouldn't have done it." He asked for tolerance, saying, "This is
not time to pull someone over the rails."
Yet, Riverside Republican
Commissioner Tony Peraica said some of the checks were as large as
$700,000 and pointed to it as a dramatic escalation of the so-called
24-9 contracts - payments just under the $25,000 figure requiring board
approval - that Stroger handed out as a lame duck after losing in the
Democratic Primary earlier this year. "The ship is not being steered,"
Peraica said. "The management is not managing."
Deputy State's Attorney Patrick
Driscoll Jr. said the violation was minor and could easily be undone by
the board's approval for the payments, which was granted later in the
meeting. "This is for work that's already been performed," he said,
calling the error simply "a matter of timing." The checks were cut Aug.
19 and 26, and were discovered last Friday by Williams, who reported
them to Daley and the board.
Yet, after a summer of tussling with
Stroger over the 24-9 contracts and hirings, promotions and raises he
granted as a lame duck, it raised more suspicion among the
commissioners, who went on to pass an ordinance smoothing the transition
from Stroger to the next president, who will be elected in November and
sworn in a month later.
Stroger will be required to create office space for the new president-elect and to guarantee access to records.
"I don't have any opposition," Stroger said, adding he would comply with the new transition measures.
The board also sent to committee a
proposed resolution calling on the General Assembly to remove the demand
for senior citizens in Cook County to reapply for their exemption on
property-tax bills every year. The resolution is sponsored by Democratic
Chicago Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Bridget Gainer and Evanston
Democrat Larry Suffredin along with Bartlett Republican Timothy
Schneider. Claypool is running for assessor as an independent, and the
resolution also has the support of retiring incumbent Assessor James
Houlihan, who is fighting the reimposition of what amounts to a nuisance
"There is no evidence that a
significant number of people are getting the senior exemption
inappropriately," said Houlihan spokesman Eric Herman. "It is not a
The matter should be taken up at the next board meeting in two weeks.