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Our View: Cashing in amid obscurity

Updated: December 14, 2012 6:21AM



As we’ve seen during the past two years, reform can come to Cook County government, such as an expedited budget process and an independent board overseeing the public health system.

But it’s never easy. There’s such a legacy of graft, nepotism, patronage hiring and waste that it’s hard for some still in power to let go.

The latest example is a move by two county commissioners to take away full-time pay and health care and pension benefits from clout-heavy people who serve on some obscure county boards.

Bridget Gainer (D-Chicago) and Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) tried to get board approval of their sensible measure two weeks ago, but not enough of their colleagues signed on. So they plan to try again this week with a lesser proposal they hope can get the nine votes needed to pass.

Gainer and Suffredin are targeting members of the county’s employee appeals board, zoning board of appeals and sheriff’s merit board. Members of the first two boards get $35,000 annual salaries and meet anywhere from 12 to 24 times per year. Merit board members meet quarterly and also review sheriff’s department job applicants and make hiring recommendations. They are paid $26,000. Members of all three boards also get full medical coverage and a pension.

Quite a cushy deal for part-time work. But not one the financially struggling county should be offering. The pay is excessive; the benefits indefensible. Offering pensions for such jobs is part of the reason why Cook County has a pension mess. Whatever happened to serving out of a sense of public duty rather than cashing in?

Gainer and Suffredin wanted to remove the salary and pay members $500 per meeting. The benefits also would go, but members would be reimbursed for expenses.

County board president Toni Preckwinkle says the reform plan is a “good idea.” It sure is, but one unpalatable to most of the county board who apparently are more concerned about protecting their political pals.



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