Cook County launches census effort

May 27, 2009 (CHICAGO) But some are questioning the wisdom, not to mention the cost, of some of the Census Bureau's public awareness efforts.

The census is conducted every 10 years. This time, the government is expected to spend $15 billion on the project, which translates to about $49 for every person counted. Local governments also chip in.

Here's a look at just one way your money is being spent:

While most of us were at work Wednesday, a few hundred current and former county government workers went to the Brookfield Zoo. No carousel rides for them, just a meeting in the "Swan Pavilion." It was a 90-minute-long pep talk on the importance of the 2010 census.

"2010 is when the actual thing occurs, but you've got to really rev the people up and get 'em prepared for it and make aware of how important this whole thing is," said Al Pritchett, Cook County Census Committee chairman.

Census results control everything from the flow of federal dollars to representation in Washington. Illinois is one of a handful of states that may lose a seat in Congress because of population shifts.

Wednesday at the Zoo, a who's who of movers and shakers in the administration of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was on hand. His chief of staff was there, so was his emergency management director, former spokesman, former budget director, and a county purchasing agent who happens to be married to Stroger's best friend.

"I look around the room here and realize, with people on the taxpayer's dime, we're probably looking at $25-30,000 in payroll and expenses in this room," said Tony Peraica, (R) Cook County commissioner.

"This is more than just a party. It's really, 'Look at us, see what we're going, fill out this form and be part of the process,' " said Todd Stroger, (D) Cook County Board president.

Guests dined on a light brunch, listened to a few speeches and then it was autograph time. The United States Census Bureau brought in five former NFL stars, including Emery Moorehead and Otis Wilson.

How is it a good use of census money to have NFL players signing autographs for county workers?

"Well, the former players here are part of a grassroots effort to make sure to use their star power to educate kids and their parents," said Elissa Johnson, U.S. Census.

"If you think it's gravy for county employees to eat some fruit, eat a croissant and maybe some coffee, then I don't know where your gravy is," said Pritchett.

The Census Bureau pays the NFL players for public appearances. Cook County picked up the tab for the zoo event. Total cost: $6,800. They say it's a good investment, and their outreach a decade ago increased responses to the census.

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