Cook County Commissioners face questions on missed meetings

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Cook County Commissioners face questions on missed meetings
Your tax dollars pay their salaries, but are you getting your money's worth from the Cook County Board of Commissioners?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Your tax dollars pay their salaries, but are you getting your money's worth from the Cook County Board of Commissioners? The ABC 7 I-Team and Chicago Sun-Times conducted a joint investigation into who is missing meetings.

County commissioners make about $85,000 a year, but for most it's part-time; they're allowed to have other jobs. The I-Team and Sun-Times found some of the commissioners aren't getting any gold stars for their attendance.

Jason Knowles: "Are the taxpayers getting their money's worth?"

Bridget Gainer: "Absolutely, absolutely."

County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who serves the 10th District, defended her attendance record.

"We've had tremendous results," she said. "I'm sure my attendance isn't perfect, I'm juggling just like every other working mother, so I'll keep doing that."

But records show she's missed the most meetings when compared to all other commissioners. Like many of them, Gainer has another job. Hers is the head of public affairs at Aon.

JK: "Does your other job affect your meetings?"

BG: "Not even a little bit. This is all about results and I'm absolutely proud of what we've been able to do with the county."

An analysis of public records by the Chicago Sun-Times shows Gainer has missed 32 percent of County Board meetings and committee meetings combined in the last five years; a total of 162 out of 504 meetings.

"I think that the people who pay taxes and I represent care about the things we've been able to get done," Gainer said. "Two hundred people are living in what used to be a vacant home because we created."

Next on the absentee list is 3rd District Commissioner Jerry Butler. He's missed 31 percent of total meetings in five years. Butler is not seeking reelection and he wasn't at Wednesday's County Board meeting where the I-Team caught up with the other commissioners in question.

Commissioner John Fritchey, who serves the 12th District, missed 29 percent of meetings in the last five years, or 134 out of 469.

"I think I've gone above and beyond for the constituents as I always have. My staff knows and my family knows that it is very uncommon for me to work less than a 60-hour week," he said.

Fritchey said the meetings he missed in the last year and a half were due to health problems and a surgery.

"There have been approximately 149 board meetings since I have taken office. I've missed 9 of those since I've taken office," Fritchey said. "Four of the ones I missed were last year in late 2016. I was in the hospital for either a scan, a test or a biopsy, a follow up on each of those days. I had not gone three weeks from October to the end of last year without being in the hospital."

The I-Team even looked only at the years before Fritchey said he was dealing with medical problems. From September of 2013 to August of 2016, the analysis shows he still missed 29 percent of board and committee meetings combined.

Jason Knowles: "But you missed board meetings before your health issues?"

John Fritchey: "I just--one, two, three, four board meetings in seven years."

Fritchey also works another job as a lobbyist.

"If this was about money, I could make a lot more in the private sector. I do this because I believe in this job," he said.

"I had pneumonia for four weeks, I almost died," said 16th District Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski.

Tobolski said his serious health problems were also to blame for missing 28 percent of meetings, although the I-Team found that the commissioner, who is also mayor of the Village of McCook, missed 29 percent of meetings in a three-year snapshot before his illness.

Jason Knowles: "Before the illness are you saying you had good attendance?"

Jeffrey Tobolski: "We don't make them all. I'm not going to tell you that we make every committee meeting that there is. It depends on what's before the committee, if it's something important to my constituents... So I think I've done a pretty good goddamn job of representing them."

Commissioners with near-perfect records also stressed the importance of attendance. The I-Team found 11th District Commissioner John P. Daley has the best attendance record.

"I do try to attend every board meeting and committee meeting as some of my colleagues do," Daley said. "I think it's important when you are elected to represent people at these various meetings."

"So many decisions are made relative to money and relative to policy," said 1st District Commissioner Richard Boykin.

Many of the commissioners who missed a large number of meetings gave the I-Team another reason for their absences. They pointed out that in many cases the committee meetings are scheduled on the same days as the board meetings, so if you are unable to make one day that can really ding your attendance rating for all meetings.

Rachel Hinton and Dan Mihalopoulos contributed to this story

Click here to read the Chicago Sun-Times report