It’s not the PR, Todd

Sometimes I think I could turn this entire blog over to a critique of the Cook County Board and nothing else.

Most of the commissioners are fine people who I respect — Democrat and Republican. While I disagree strongly with Tony Peraica’s conservative social agenda, for example, I have a great deal of respect for his verbal calls for honesty in government. While I don’t quite understand their commitment to Board President Todd Stroger, Commissioners Joan Patricia Murphy and Deborah Sims work hard for those of us in the south suburbs of Chicagoland.

And Forrest Claypool? Well, here’s to what might have been.

President Stroger, your problem is not PR.

When I read earlier this week in the Sun-Times that Todd Stroger was “set to bring on a p.r. consultant, records show, to help improve his image and that of the hospital system he runs,” I just about choked. Of course, I’m not the only one who took notice. From the article:

“Of the multitude of problems facing the health bureau, p.r. is the least of them,” said Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association. “President Stroger should save the money, no matter how difficult that may be for the administration, and let the independent board decide how to use the money on things like actual health care services.”

Stroger already has people who are working the public relations angle:

Stroger’s p.r. staff is larger than that of many other county governments across the country, records show, but it’s hardly the most expensive.

Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan’s communications chief, Lucio Guerrero, makes more than $120,000, though he said he’s also in charge of about a dozen people, heading up outreach and research.

Stroger’s top p.r. staffer, Mullins, is budgeted to be paid $105,059 — and Stroger still employs all of his former spokesmen in other, comparably salaried positions.

“The need for yet another p.r. consultant or staffer for President Stroger is ridiculous,” Stewart said.

Honestly, now, Todd, do you really think your problem is a decided lack of public relations? You do remember shortly after you swore your oath to “support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Cook County Board President to the best of my ability,” you roped off an elevator for your own private use.

Sir, with all due respect, the problem is not a lack of p.r. It’s you.

I’m going to remind you of the 10 tips the Sun-Times offered you at the beginning of the month:

1. Please, don’t hire anybody in your family to fill the job.

2. Nope, not even a cousin.

3. A childhood friend? See above.

4. A national search for the new inspector general does mean looking outside your political home base of the 8th Ward.

5. Ask yourself: “What would my political mentor, Bill ‘The Hog with the Big Nuts’ Beavers, do?” Then do the opposite.

6. Let the inspector hire his or her own staff. Don’t view the 12 new jobs as a political dumping ground.

7. Hire someone familiar with corruption. Familiar, that is, with investigating and prosecuting it, not committing it.

8. The new inspector general will not require the services of a private chauffeur, as do some political big shots. Or a private elevator.

9. Do not brag to taxpayers that the new inspector general is coming in at a bargain salary, then give the new hire a double-digit raise within a year. For reference, see the Chicago Sun-Times, March 24, “Todd’s Cousin Cashes In.”

10. Follow the lead of Mayor Daley. He hired a first-rate inspector general for the city, David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor. Hoffman’s smart, independent, experienced and beholden to no one. He drives Daley nuts. But he’s a friend to taxpayers.

For too long, county government has been a cesspool of patronage. You see, Todd, that’s what we’re looking at: individuals who take advantage of the tax payers by setting aside privileges for themselves and people they favor. That’s what it’s really all about. Just stop doing that.

Forget the p.r. binge. Just stop all of that and govern. Good p.r. will follow good actions.

Come on, Todd, Get Serious

I freely admit I was wrong in supporting Todd Stroger for President of Cook County Board. I believed friends locally who told me that Todd would do a great job. I believed them when they told me Todd was good for Cook County, and cared about Cook County residents.

I was suspicious when they insisted that Todd meant well, even after he insisted on a personal elevator in the County Building downtown. I’m not going to throw in, “What was he thinking???”, to paraphrase Blago-the-Destroyer’s campaign line.

Well, here’s the rub: Cousin: Stroger ready to tax again. Thank you to our friends at the Chicago Sun-Times for that wonderful headline. What does that mean? It means that Todd’s cousin, Donna Dunnings, who “took one for the team” and accepted the powerful CFO job with Cook County at a respectable salary, then accepted a 12% pay hike, proclaimed in a speech to the City Club of Chicago, “the county has bigger problems that need even more taxes to tackle.”

Well, that’s just sweet.

“The structural deficit is real and the sales tax is by no means an answer to that,” she said.

So, the county is going to turn to “cost containment,” according to Dunnings, and turn to “other revenues” to make ends meet.

“Other revenues”??? Translation: The Cook County Board will find a new and creative way to tax all of us.

Here is one important fact to remember: Our businesses are already being choked out of the suburbs, running to Will County in the south suburbs. Do Todd Stroger or Donna Dunnings really care about that?

I know some of the logic behind Cook County’s absurd tax structure that makes it so desirable for businesses to run to other counties. Something about business owners who commute from other suburbs to help pay for the infrastructure of Cook County, or something strange like that. Thus, the equalizer.

Look, Todd, and, for that matter, the rest of the Cook County Board: Sit down and act in concert. It’s that simple. We need the Cook County Board to stop blaming each other and act, yes, as a Board. Act in the best interest of the people of Cook County. Help those of us in the suburbs retain our businesses. Stop acting as if the borders of Cook County stop at the borders of the City of Chicago. Stop the patronage politics. We can’t afford it any more. You can’t honestly expect us to believe that the best person for the position of CFO of Cook County happened to be Todd Stroger’s cousin, Donna Dunnings.

Hold each other accountable on the board. Accountability in government is good.

And the rest of us will be incredibly more circumspect in future elections. In fact, those of us who stayed home last election day might show up next time and cast our votes.

Because, yes, we were wrong.

Todd Stroger Bumbles Again

Cook County President Todd Stroger could be doing better.

The Chicago Tribune reported today Stroger disputed the findings of a report he had not read, and this on political patronage in County government, a sore spot with Republicans, and, frankly, most people in the Chicagoland area.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger on Thursday disputed the findings of a report suggesting patronage was alive and well in county government, then admitted he had not read the 54-page document. Instead, he deferred to newspaper accounts of the report. Unbelievable.

“I haven’t read her report yet,” Stroger said, referring to the review filed in court last week by retired Cook County Circuit Judge Julia Nowicki, a federally appointed hiring monitor.

Stroger said he knew about the report’s details from newspaper accounts. “I can read the newspaper,” said Stroger, a freshman board president and former Chicago alderman. “I’ve got a good education.”

As a Democrat, I supported Stroger’s candidacy for Board President. As someone who can also read the newspapers, watch news accounts on television and is probably more in touch with tax payers than President Stroger, I’m ashamed. Certainly there will be those in the media who will hound Stroger and make unfair or unfounded accusations, but Stroger needs to be smart, read the report and respond intelligently.

Otherwise, he just sounds like George W. Bush – uninformed and out of touch.