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Some county commissioners say furlough days are for union workers, not them

Saturday, September 17, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by LISA DONOVAN

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a former high school history teacher, is taking roll and she doesn’t necessarily like what she sees.

On Friday, Preckwinkle sent a letter to Cook County commissioners generically thanking those who were taking 10 days off without pay this year — part of a countywide cost-saving plan. But she also indicated she knew who hadn’t and was “disappointed by the decision of a number of commissioners who have chosen not to participate in this process.”

She didn’t name any names in the letter, but Preckwinkle said she was examining a “Furlough Report” that had all the details. Her staff didn’t release the report, which officials say will be made public next week.

Earlier this year, the 17 county commissioners unanimously approved Preckwinkle’s budget plan that included 10 days off without pay for most of the county’s 23,000 employees to help fill a $487 million hole in the county’s $3 billion budget. Those days off included commissioners and their staffs, Preckwinkle’s spokeswoman said.

But Commissioner William Beavers, a South Side and suburban Democrat, said he’s not so sure about that.

“I voted in favor of the budget — but no furlough days were in that budget,” Beavers said.

When told that they were included in the budget package, Beavers said: “They were making some deal with the unions, but it [the time off without pay] wasn’t for us.”

Beavers said he didn’t realize he was taking what amounts to a pay cut until he took a closer look at his paychecks.

“They just took it, OK? They just took the money out. I got a check and I realized ‘Hey what’s that? I’m short.’”

He initially went along with it until he started chatting with some other commissioners, and they decided the pay cut was “illegal.”

He’s referring to the Illinois Constitution which says the salaries of sitting elected officials can’t be increased or decreased during their term of office. That doesn’t mean Beavers and others can’t voluntarily give up some of their pay.

But he’s not doing that.

In fact, he’s asked for — and received — compensation.

“I wrote a letter to Connie Kravitz, the comptroller, stating that it’s illegal, that they took my money illegally and to give it back,” Beavers said.

On Thursday, he got a check for $700 from the county.

He said he deserves it since he worked those days anyway.

Commissioner John Daley, the powerful chair of the Finance Committee and a Preckwinkle ally made no bones about it: “I am complying and so is my staff.”

Preckwinkle is asking commissioners who haven’t taken off the days to consider doing it by the end of the fiscal year, Nov. 30, so the county can stay in the black.

As she wrote in her letter, the “2011 budget called for the implementation of [five] furlough days and [five] shut down days, and the budget factored the participation of commissioners and their staff in the targeted savings.”



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