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Preckwinkle agrees to fewer Cook County job cuts; hundreds of layoffs still in works

Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick, Steve Schmadeke

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle agreed Monday to scale back some of the hundreds of layoffs she proposed, a change that was being negotiated just a day before the vote on her $5.2 billion budget plan.

If approved, the eleventh-hour changes would save 22 public guardian staffers, 12 sheriff’s patrol officers and 51 court sergeants from the chopping block, commissioners said.

To save the jobs at the public guardian’s office, the turnover rate — the amount of money saved when job openings aren't filled — would be adjusted upward for the office of Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Evans, said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat who helped craft the changes.

Money saved by not paying for laid-off workers’ health care and pension benefits will lessen the pain at the sheriff’s office, Suffredin said. Those savings hadn’t been considered when the cuts were first proposed, he said.

A spokesman said Preckwinkle agreed to the alterations in her original budget-cutting plan, which caused phone lines to burn up throughout the weekend as officials did last-minute lobbying for further adjustments. She and commissioners needed to make the cuts after the board repealed the unpopular county soda tax last month, leaving the county about $200 million in the hole.

The changes, which were still being finalized Monday evening, may help Preckwinkle maintain the bipartisan coalition of 15 commissioners she got to sign off on her original proposed cuts. Commissioner Richard Boykin, an Oak Park Democrat who was part of that group, previously had said he would not vote for the budget if the 12 sheriff’s officers who patrol unincorporated areas were not restored.

Acting Public Guardian Charles Golbert over the weekend made an issue of the cuts in his office, telling reporters and commissioners that they would harm the disabled and abandoned children and disabled adults his office represents.

And Evans, who appoints the public guardian, on Monday said Preckwinkle’s original proposed cuts for his office would slash staff so deeply it would violate state and federal staffing guidelines, possibly forcing the county into court. He referred to “unintended consequences” and their effect on the public guardian’s office and Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

“It is a debacle, it is unfair because it’s going to hurt people who desperately need help,” Evans said at an unrelated event Monday. In recent weeks, he has been pushing furlough days as a way to save money.

Preckwinkle’s administration has indicated it’s unwilling to count on cost savings from furlough days without a signed agreement from unions that represent the workers.

Even with the revisions, there still would be about 340 layoffs, hitting the offices of Evans and Sheriff Tom Dart the hardest. Preckwinkle contends there are too many midlevel managers in those offices.

Commissioners are scheduled to first make the proposed changes at a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday morning before a final vote on the budget.

Twitter @ReporterHal

Twitter @steveschmadeke

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