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Why Cook County budget trims are bigger hurdle than you think

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As new president Toni Preckwinkle pushes forward on her effort to trim Cook County spending, the county could learn a lot from Chicago's government, says a veteran insider.

Here's a summary of that experienced hand's observations:

During Mayor Daley's tenure, the city worked consistently to train middle managers, who in turn learned how to do a better job of developing an effective work force. Former Mayor Harold Washington's administration also did that, although not to the extent that Daley has.

But nothing like that has been going on in the County Building. As a result, it has continued to have ineffective middle managers and, by extension, a work force populated with many employees for whom efficiency is not exactly Job No. 1. Many of those people wound up working where they do after outside pressure was applied by someone with political power, including some "pretty awful people" who were put in Shakman-exempt positions.

Changing that takes time. Even if the workers are bumbling and slow, they mostly do something that somebody wants done. Preckwinkle will have to wrestle with a bureaucracy that will find ways to slow down change. And unions make it hard to get rid of employees.

That means saving money through efficiency will take a long time. But to get savings immediately - Preckwinkle wants the equivalent of a 16 percent cut for the full 2011 fiscal year - she will have to make significant trims in services. That won't be easy, because every service has its own constituency. But there's no other way to get big savings quickly.

But getting out the axe could bring unexpected costs. "All sorts of little work units" are dotted around county government whose value might only become clear after they are gone. And it might cost an unexpectedly large amount of money to patch up the holes once they become apparent.

In short, there's plenty of fat in county government. But squeezing it out won't be easy.

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Preckwinkle is simply making a sound bit for the news cycle.

She has previously mentioned not rescinding the penny sales tax will not happen immediately, as she stated in her quest for the position. Wonder why? I have to presume former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was expressing the truth for the need of it, instead of lying as Preckwinkle did and presently making hollow statements about drastic budget cuts.

I just read the edictorial board's aldermanic endorsement for the 41st Ward and I am deeply disappointed. I attended two aldermanic forums in the community and did not get any sense that Mary O'Connor had knowledge of the "larger city issues". She gave vague and superficial answers about all topics. In addition, her ties to the Hired Truck scandal and inability to file a required candidates financial disclosure form with the Illinois State Election Board on time (January 20, 2011) are additional red flags for those of us who live in the community. If you look at the State of Illinois election website, there still is no financial disclosure filed. What is up with that? Please reconsider who you endorse for 41st ward Alderman. Monica Dillon

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on January 20, 2011 3:03 PM.

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