Elected County leaders may be forced to take furlough days
Friday, February 25, 2011
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County’s elected leaders may feel a lightening bolt to the wallet this year.
That’s because a job-saving, cost-cutting proposal
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration and the unions
are working on calls for county employees — including the 17
commissioners, assessor and treasurer — to take 10 unpaid days off this
year, officials say.
“I think shared sacrifice means shared sacrifice
and I think it’s only proper to lead by example,” said Commissioner John
Fritchey, a North Side Democrat.
Fellow North Side Commissioner Bridget Gainer, also
a Democrat, said: “Of course we should be included. If we’re laying off
nurses and secretaries and everybody else, it’s only fair that everyone
share in the reduction.”
Commissioners earn $85,000 a year and the furloughs
mean they’d be saying goodbye, before taxes, to little more than $3,000
for those two weeks without pay.
Commissioner Earlean Collins, a Democrat whose
district includes Chicago’s West Side and the western suburbs, said
there could be a legal glitch to the plan. The state constitution
doesn’t allow for an increase or decrease in pay during the term of an
elected leader serving in local government.
But she said there is a loophole, including the
possibility that elected leaders could sign off on the furlough days and
pay back the county.
“Can I give up 10 days? Yes. Absolutely,” Collins said.
At last check, Preckwinkle’s administration was
brokering a deal with the unions that would mean some 15,700 county
employees – union and non-union alike – would take off 10 furlough days
this year. The balance of the roughly 23,000 employees would not be
subject to the cuts because they’re deemed “essential personnel,” which
includes staff in the Sheriff’s Office, sources say.
The cost savings is estimated at about $38 million and part of a larger budget plan to streamline operations and refinance debt.
But the details were being worked out late
Thursday. Commissioners are meeting Friday with the goal of voting on a
final spending plan.
“It’s not stew yet,” said Peter N. Silvestri, a Northwest Side Republican.
He agrees that everyone needs to share in the pain but will reserve judgment until he sees the final plan.
That county furlough proposal could save hundreds of jobs, observers say.
In her $3 billion spending plan introduced earlier
this month, Preckwinkle said that in order to close the
half-billion-dollar budget gap, between 1,300 and 2,000 jobs would be
Preckwinkle already cut her $170,000-a-year salary
by 10 percent, said spokeswoman Jessey Neves. And the president would
also be subject to the furlough days if the plan goes through, Neves
Preckwinkle is among 28 elected county government officials, which include the 17 commissioners.
So is Treasurer Maria Pappas who said of the
proposal: “I’m going to try and cooperate with her, but it’s really hard
when the little offices do their fair share and the others don’t.”
She wouldn’t point the finger, but the
$105,000-a-year elected leader says her office met Preckwinkle’s call
for 16 percent budget cuts while others haven’t.
Assessor Joe Berrios said he’ll gladly take the
furlough days if it means saving jobs and so will subordinates,
including his son and sister whom he hired after taking office in
“This is something where we can continue providing
the services the people of Cook County count on and we’re keeping people
in their jobs,” Berrios said.