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Commissioners trim salaries, benefits for some county boards

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday Oct. 16 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 19, 2012 11:53AM



The lucrative salary, health care and pension benefits are going away for those political appointees whose work on various Cook County boards is tantamount to part-time jobs.

Salaries for the five-seat Employee Appeals Board — whose members include south suburban powerbroker and Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli, as well as Juan Ochoa, the former CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority — will go away altogether under a measure passed Wednesday by county commissioners.

Instead, members will receive a stipend of $500 per meeting with salaries capped at $12,000 annually, plus expenses. Members will no longer receive pension and healthcare benefits.

The board meets monthly to hear non-union employee appeals of anything from demotions to firings. Regular board members earn $34,765.60 annually, with $20,226 in benefits. The board chair receives $43,080.96 with $21,720 in benefits.

Similarly, the county’s five-member Zoning Board of Appeals — which meets up to four times monthly to consider zoning appeals in unincorporated Cook County and can call public hearings — will say goodbye to their current salaries, along with pension and Blue Cross Blue Shield health care benefits. Instead, they’ll collect a $500-per-meeting stipend with a $12,000 annual cap and expenses

Currently, the chair earns $43,081 annually with another $21,728 in benefits, while the members earn $34,678 and another $20,226 in health and pension benefits.

As the cash-strapped county government looks to trim pension and other costs, commissioners say they’re going to take a harder look at lesser-known boards to see whether it’s appropriate to shrink their compensation packages.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she has the authority to appoint people to 50 boards and commissions — including the zoning and employee appeals boards. Of the 10 seats on the two boards, only one is filled by a Preckwinkle appointee — Ochoa. The others were tapped by former board President Todd Stroger.

“I support this change because I think it’s good public policy and it will save the county $300,000,” annually, Preckwinkle told reporters after the board vote.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, a North Side Democrat and a lead sponsor of the measure, also told reporters that this was an important step as the county works to close its pension gap. She said elected leaders owe it to taxpayers, many of whom continue struggling as the economy recovers, to keep a tighter hold on the government’s purse strings.

“We have people paying the taxes for this county that don’t have a job at all and to have a part time job with a high salary, pension benefits — it’s the wrong message to send at this time,” Gainer said.

The County Board delayed a vote until at least December on compensation for members of the Sheriff’s Merit Board, which conducts hiring tests and disciplinary hearings for sheriff’s police, correctional officers and deputies. The sheriff has the authority to appoint members to that board.

Required to meet just four times annually, the nine-member board’s current compensation package includes a $26,000 annual salary for sitting members and $31,000 for the chair, with all receiving pension and health care benefits. The Sheriff’s Office could not provide a dollar amount for those fringe benefits.

Among those sitting on the sheriff’s board is Lance Tyson, the one-time chief of staff to former Board President Stroger. Tyson’s name may sound familiar: Last week he lost his bid for the statehouse to Derrick Smith, who is currently facing federal bribery charges.



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