Cook County Board President-elect Toni Preckwinkle is meeting resistance from fellow Democrat Todd Stroger as she prepares to take over from him in less than a month — and now commissioners are ready to force more cooperation.
The two met Tuesday for the first time, after what Preckwinkle described as months of "zero" cooperation, but it was of little help. Preckwinkle would only say it was "unfortunate" the session was "very short," but influential Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, was less subtle.
"It lasted eight to 10 minutes — it was not good," said Daley, who said he had discussed the meeting with Preckwinkle.
So Daley and all his colleagues plan to put Stroger and his top executives under the spotlight at Tuesday's board meeting, where they will be asked to detail their transition efforts.
"We intend to call every department head and ask, 'What have you done,'" said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, who expressed frustration at Stroger's apparent refusal to cooperate.
"He continues to make bad judgments, to make himself look bad to the public," Suffredin said of Stroger, who placed last in a four-way primary in February after a tenure troubled by hiring scandals and an unpopular sales tax increase.
Suffredin said Sheriff Tom Dart, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and the county's other countywide elected officials — whose budgets are overseen by the board — have been cooperative. "The only person who seems to have a problem is Todd Stroger, and he has 26 days left," Suffredin said Thursday.
In September, the board passed an ordinance calling for all countywide elected officials to work on the transition, but Stroger has flouted that law, Daley and Suffredin contend. "The ordinance is very clear," Daley said. "They must cooperate."
Attempts to reach Marcel Bright, Stroger's spokesman, were unsuccessful.
A day before her meeting with Stroger, Preckwinkle took steps to get information directly. She sent letters to elected officials and department heads asking for their cooperation, said Jessey Neves, a Preckwinkle spokeswoman. Several have taken up the offer, she added.
Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, said taking over the reins of county government, which has a $3 billion budget and nearly 24,000 employees, involves a "tremendous learning curve" for anyone. "You can only do so much until you get in there," she said, adding that she believes Preckwinkle is doing all she can to hit the ground running.
The day after her Nov. 2 victory, Preckwinkle posted online a "compact for change" and a policy report focusing on five key areas of county government. This week she named a bipartisan transition committee that included community, business and political leaders, including former Republican Gov.Jim Edgar.
"She's done an impressive amount of information gathering," Gainer said. "She's probably doing as much as you can do in this situation."