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Preckwinkle makes financial checks in first Cook County Board meeting

Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

The Cook County Board took aim at the county's troubled finances Tuesday during President Toni Preckwinkle's first full meeting at the helm.

At Preckwinkle's urging, the board put a stop to proposed vehicle purchases by several county departments. The Finance Committee will review the proposals to see if it's possible to consolidate the purchases to save money and better track which departments the cars and trucks end up in.

"We can't have a situation where every elected official is making separate purchases for vehicles," Preckwinkle said at a news conference outside her office after Tuesday's meeting. "It makes it impossible for us to track what the county owns, and difficult to manage our fleet."

The board also went ahead with plans to review the salaries of officials in the county health system, following questions about recent raises given to administrators.

The review will be headed by County Auditor Laura Burman, but it's not clear how wide-ranging it will be. Preckwinkle said her office will determine how far back the review will go and how many employees the auditor will look at.

The board also named members of a new county Pension Committee, which Preckwinkle said will look for ways to meet the county's pension obligations.

"The Cook County pensions are funded at, I think, 64 percent, and we definitely need to look at how we're going to improve — improve our funding for our pensions," she said.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D- Chicago, will lead the Pension Committee.

Separately, Preckwinkle chose Commissioner Robert Steele to serve as president pro tempore, meaning he will run board meetings in her absence. The selection of Steele, D-Chicago, came as something of a surprise, since there are other commissioners with more seniority.

But Preckwinkle said she likes Steele's temperament.

"He's somebody who I've known for some time, and in whom I have confidence, and I think he's an even-tempered, level-headed person," she said.

Preckwinkle did not renew the contract of county parliamentarian Burt Odelson, an attorney who has been spearheading a challenge to mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel's residency.

During the meeting, which was noteworthy for its brevity, Preckwinkle sometimes had to be prompted by commissioners when she stumbled over the intricacies of parliamentary procedure.

But she predicted she would quickly get the hang of it.

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