2 Cook Co. commissioners refusing to take furloughs

October 4, 2011 9:45:15 AM PDT
Wednesday morning's Cook County Board meeting could get contentious if President Toni Preckwinkle talks about commissioners who refuse to take furlough days.

"I expected every commissioner to do as we asked our employees to do and take the days and do as I have done and do what now 15 out of 17 commissioners have pledged to do," Preckwinkle said Tuesday just before the board meeting, expressing disappointment on the two commissioners still holding out on taking furlough days.

But most county employees have no choice in the matter and are being told to take the furlough days to help balance the county budget.

Commissioner Elizabeth "Liz" Doody Gorman said she isn't buying excuses from commissioners.

"They can justify them not taking them all they want, but I don't see how any commissioner works any harder than any other commissioner. They have more area to cover and constituents to serve. But at the same time, they can justify all they want but the bottom line it is wrong," she said.

There was no official word on if the furlough issue will come up, but on the official agenda is a proposal to give the inspector general more power to evaluate and possibly consolidate waste in county departments.

Preckwinkle is hoping to reduce a huge budget deficit by having commissioners and county workers work less and take furlough days. She says so far it is working and most have agreed, but there are still two holding out.

After seeing the impact of the furlough days that they voted for on their salaries, two Cook County commissioners had a change of heart.

"They thought it was a good idea then. I don't understand why they don't think it is now," Preckwinkle said.

Earlier this year, the Cook County Board unanimously agreed to take ten paid days off because it was something they asked all county workers to do to help chose a nearly $315 million budget deficit. For commissioners, the days off resulted in a 5-percent cut to their $85, 000-a-year salaries. Some soon had second thoughts.

"I decided not to take furlough days because she didn't have enough money for house bills," Cook co. commissioner William Beavers said Sept. 21.

Beavers argued his vote was tied to keeping Oak Forest Hospital open, which didn't happen. Commissioner Earlean Collins says the pay cut is affecting her community work.

"In my budget, there is no contingency account for every dime I spend for transportation and everything else that comes out of my salary," she said.

The debate comes a day after a report found that Preckwinkle gave raises to her three personal bodyguards. Preckwinkle defended the move, saying bodyguards don't get overtime and that her security staff is smaller than her predecessor's and those of Ill. Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

There were three other commissioners who did not want to take pay cuts but since then have given in. At the county board meeting, commissioners will be talking about how to cut costs, and the two commissioners holding out could be called out.

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