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City, county to explore collaboration

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Fran Spielman

The city and county could join forces on everything from health care, road maintenance and job training to administering elections under an initiative launched Tuesday that could move Chicago a step closer to metropolitan government.

United by their reform agendas and joint desire to save money and deliver services more efficiently, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appointed a six-member committee to recommend ways city and county government can collaborate.

Two years ago, a Mayor Daley-appointed panel co-chaired by one of Emanuel’s transition team quarterbacks recommended that the city transfer control over city elections to County Clerk David Orr. The group also recommended that the county assume responsibility for overflow patients at city health clinics.

Those ideas will be a starting point for the new study, due back in 45 days.

“Both the county and the city have health clinics. … Discussions have begun about how we can more effectively deliver service at least cost” by merging the two, Preckwinkle said.

“The county has a board of elections and the city has a board of elections. There are a number of county elections in off-years when the city doesn’t have elections. There’s a way where it’s possible for us to save money by combining” the two, she said.

Emanuel said the new partnership won’t stop there.

Road maintenance, information technology and job training are also fertile ground for collaboration. So are education reforms that lower a sky-high drop-out rate that feeds Cook County Jail.

The only hitch is in making certain that, when the city takes over a county operation and the county assumes control of a service provided by the city, that everybody comes out even financially.

“Rather than outside think-tanks or groups recommending it, we’re leading this effort. It leads to not just a set of recommendations that then are put on the shelf, but enacted, since both of us are using our reputations and prestige in asking for this, rather than it being given to us,” the mayor-elect said.

And what about jittery city employees who view the partnership as Emanuel’s chance to reduce the city payroll?

“If you’re wedded to the past, then maybe I suppose you could get nervous. That’s not just people working [for] the city, but people who work with the city because, as this initiative shows, we’re not gonna do business as usual,” Emanuel said.

“Change and reform are coming. The voters asked for it. … I will lead an effort to bring that change — not just so we reduce jobs. … I am going to save money. I’m gonna make sure we deliver the services and ask some fundamental questions — health-care delivery being one example — of can we do something different and still get the type of services we expect, but at a lower cost.”

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