County Board cuts perks for select political appointees

2012-11-14T18:30:00Z 2012-11-14T20:13:18Z County Board cuts perks for select political appointeesGregory Tejeda Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 14, 2012 6:30 pm  • 

CHICAGO | The Cook County Board gave its approval Wednesday to a pair of ordinances that cut the pay and eliminate other financial perks for political appointees who serve on a pair of boards.

Included among those affected by the change is Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli.

Those cuts — for members of the county Employee Appeals Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals — came despite the objections of two county commissioners who represent the south suburbs.

Commissioners Joan Patricia Murphy, D-Crestwood, and Deborah Sims, D-Chicago, both said they think it is wrong to change the compensation for members of those boards after offering them such perks to get them to serve.

“They may have given up other positions because they thought this was a better offer,” said Murphy, whose district includes much of the area along the Illinois/Indiana border.

Sims, whose far South Side district stretches into suburbs such as Riverdale, Harvey and part of Chicago Heights, said she thinks existing members of the boards should continue to get the financial perks, even if future appointees do not.

“You could grandfather anybody into anything,” she said.

Zuccarelli, who is on the Employee Appeals Board, spoke with Sims on Tuesday to urge her to vote against the change, said his spokesman Bob Storman.

"How would you feel if somebody wanted to cut your pay," Storman said. "When you figure the expenses, cost of gas, travel downtown, you have to wonder, is it worth it?"

One other county commissioner also opposed the changes. Jerry Butler said his vote is because he thinks members of these panels should not receive any pay for their work, in part because the members of the county Health and Hospitals Systems board are not paid.

“All of these (panels) should be pro bono,” he said.

Butler voted against both measures, while Sims and Murphy voted against the measure related to the Employee Appeals Board and voted “present” for the Zoning Board measure.

Currently, members of both panels are chosen by the County Board. They receive salaries, along with some health insurance benefits and credits toward a county government pension upon retirement. Those members have duties that mostly consist of attending periodic meetings that leave them ample time to have other full-time employment.

With the changes approved Wednesday, with the County Board meeting as a Finance Committee, those members will receive a $500-per-meeting payment with a maximum of $12,000 a year.

The measures are scheduled to take effect June 1, which committee Chairman John Daley said gives those members time to make other arrangements for health insurance and retirement benefits.

County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, who was a co-sponsor of the measures, said she thinks the cuts would save the county at least $150,000 per year. She also said she thinks the people who serve on these panels do so mostly out of a sense of public service.

“All of these people serve at the pleasure of the (county board) president. Nobody has a contract for this work,” she said.

Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, said he sees such panels as a way that political people used to reward their friends with government jobs that involve high compensation but little work.

“Let’s break this down to what it really is; it’s a perk for politically connected people,” Fritchey said. “This is a vestige of the past. It is exactly the kind of thing that has people all worked up against government.”

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