Preckwinkle names experienced public/private sector experts to administrative positions

January 13, 2011

Originally published December 9, 2010 -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced two major personnel decisions on Thursday afternoon. Greg Wass will join the Preckwinkle administration as its Chief Information Officer (CIO). Robin Kelly joins the administration as the county’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

“We’re putting together a team that can meet the challenges we’re facing. Robin and Greg are both going to be key players in improving the operations of County government,” said Preckwinkle.

Kelly is a former member of the Illinois General Assembly and has served as the chief of staff for Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias since 2007. As a legislator in the Illinois House of Representatives, Kelly was a financial watchdog and champion for consumer rights. She has a long record of working on behalf of small businesses across Cook County. Kelly has worked in public service for more than 25 years and is the first African American woman to serve as chief of staff for a constitutional officer here in Illinois.

Wass joins the County from his job as the CIO for the State of Illinois. He has more than 20 years of experience in public sector management and technology consulting. He has served in executive positions with the City of Chicago, Illinois State Treasurer and City of Alexandria, Virginia. Wass served as vice president of government solutions for a Fortune 500 technology services company and was co-owner of a technology and management consulting firm. He has also served as research director for the Chicago-based Civic Federation.

Preckwinkle said the appointments are an important part of the goals of her administration: fiscal responsibility, innovative leadership, transparency and accountability and improved services.

“We’re bringing together a team of the best and brightest. We need innovative leadership to identify initiatives that cut the costs and increase the efficiency of the services the County provides.  We’re changing the culture of Cook County and these are the people who we are relying on to help us institute initiatives and help us improve services for the residents of Cook County,” Preckwinkle said.

“I am grateful to both of them for joining our team and look forward to working with them.”
“Both Robin and Greg have a tremendous record of public service and are highly regarded in their fields. Robin has proven track record as an innovative and reform-minded leader. We share a commitment to eliminating redundancies and increasing the efficiency of County operations. Greg has a strong background in both the public and private sectors. With his help, we can open up County government to its citizens – making County operations more transparent and accountable to the residents of Cook County.

Originally published December 13, 2010 -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued her first executive order on Monday imposing a moratorium on non-essential capital and professional service contracts.

This is the first of the major initiatives outlined in Preckwinkle’s transition report, released last week. Preckwinkle said the moratorium is a cornerstone of the much-needed overhaul of County spending strategies.

“This is the first step toward ending waste in Cook County and it clearly demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility. This is how we are going to institute a new era of accountability in County government,” she said.

Prior to this, a number of significant capital projects were underway without any consideration for long-term planning or a coordinated capital plan. Cook County currently has roughly $495 million in active contracts coupled with $191 million in planned projects. The capital moratorium could save tens of millions of dollars, according to an analysis conducted by the Preckwinkle’s transition team and Administrative staff. It will offload bad contracts and lay the groundwork for a more strategic approach to capital and professional services spending.

“What this means is all non-essential capital projects and professional service contracts that can be terminated will be terminated. We won’t spend like the County did in the past. We’re creating an process to review, defer, restructure and even eliminate the ill-advised contracts and wasteful spending that marked the previous administration.”

Preckwinkle’s executive order affects only non-essential projects. Exceptions have been made for projects that affect public health and safety, regulatory requirements or instances where the projects are contingent on a commitment from outside funding, such as matching grants.

The County faces a budget deficit of nearly $500 million for FY2011. A balanced FY2011 budget will be submitted by the Office of the Cook County Board President to the Board of Commissioners for review by the end of January. The budget must be approved by the Cook County Board by Feb. 28.  Preckwinkle has asked elected officials and department heads to cut 21 percent from their budgets to balance the FY2011 budget.

Originally published December 15, 2010 -- Arnold Randall was selected to serve as the new Superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserve Department. Mary Laraia will serve as Assistant Superintendent of the nation’s largest Forest Preserve district.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said both Randall and Laraia bring tremendous experience and expertise to the County’s Forest Preserve District.

Randall comes to the Forest Preserve District from his position as Director of the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. He was a key part of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee’s community outreach team and previously worked as Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development.  Randall served in a number of roles with the Chicago Park District between 1995 and 2007, including park supervisor, area and regional manager, Director of Planning and Development and Director of Legislative and Community Affairs.

Laraia has a long professional record in public policy, philanthropy, the environment and finance. She is known as an innovator in the area of corporate management and has headed community development and compliance functions at three of the nation’s top financial institutions. Laraia has received numerous honors for her work in a variety of executive management positions in both the public and private sector.

Randall and Laraia both served on Preckwinkle’s Forest Preserve policy and transition teams which helped shape the President’s priorities for the Forest Preserve District.

“Arnold and Mary reflect our commitment to bringing in talented, innovative leadership throughout the County. Arnold Randall has a tremendous amount of experience as a public servant through his roles with the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago. Mary Laraia has a background in urban planning and is an award-winning management executive who has worked for top banking institutions, government as well as nonprofits. I am grateful to both of them for their continued commitment to the Forest Preserves and for their willingness to join our team. ” Preckwinkle said.

“The Forest Preserves are truly a gem of the County,” said Preckwinkle. “As such, the governance of the Forest Preserves must exhibit the highest levels of efficiency, transparency and devotion to the mission.”

In addition to realizing cost savings, identifying opportunities for shared services and streamlining the management of the Forest Preserves, Preckwinkle has placed a priority on reengaging the public in outdoor learning and activities. Preckwinkle has tasked the two with establishing a comprehensive, long-term plan for the Forest Preserves that not only maintains and improves the resources, but also encourages greater public involvement in the future of the District.

“There are major opportunities to increase the County’s engagement with the Forest Preserves. It’s going to be a matter of reaching out to residents, especially our young people, through educational programming, new volunteer opportunities and a major outreach initiative. We’re going to work to give people a greater sense of ownership in the Forest Preserves,” said Randall.

“The Cook County Forest Preserve is the nation’s oldest and largest Forest Preserve district, it’s our job to make it the nation’s best as well,” Laraia said.

Originally published December 20, 2010 -- County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has introduced new, wide-ranging ethics rules as part of her comprehensive 100 Day Reform Initiative.

Preckwinkle issued her second executive order on Monday expanding the number of employees who are required to receive ethics training as well as the frequency of those trainings.

Previously, only about 500 elected officials, their staff and county employees were required to participate in ethics training within 120 days of becoming an elected official or their hire date.

Under Preckwinkle’s new mandate, all 2,000 employees working under the office of the president - including employees of the Cook County Health & Hospital System and the Cook County Forest Preserve District - will be required to undergo ethics training on an annual basis. This training must take place within 90 days. Additionally, training must be renewed annually. Previously, mandated training was repeated only every four years.

“It is essential that Cook County employees meet the highest ethical standards. Every employee will understand the responsibilities placed upon them when they work for the people of Cook County and the Office of the Cook County Board President. We’re building a culture of transparency, openness and accountability and this is an important step in that process,” Preckwinkle said.

All employees in the President’s office, including the President, underwent training during her first full week in office.

The executive order was drafted with assistance from Marynic Foster, the Executive Director of the Cook County Department of Ethics. Foster said the President’s new ethics initiatives promote a wider understanding of the Cook County Code of Ethical Conduct to which officials and employees of Cook County must adhere.

“Requiring annual training for all employees, not just those senior level employees mandated to undergo training every four years, is a huge and necessary step in the right direction,” Foster said.

“Increasing awareness of the Code of Ethical Conduct among all Cook County employees will serve to improve the standards of Cook County public service and will strengthen the confidence of the people of Cook Count in the integrity and the fair and honest administration of their Cook County government.”

The Cook County Board of Ethics is responsible for enforcing the Cook County Ethics Ordinance, which sets forth directives to ensure honest government.

The order changes the current policy in two key ways. First, as mentioned above, every employee under the Office of the President must complete annual training courses conducted by the Cook County Department of Ethics. These training sessions can be completed online.

Second, all new hires under the Office of the President currently exempt from mandatory ethics training will be required to complete ethics training.`None*None`None*Office of the President`Newspaper Article 220 canoeists, kayakers paddle Chicago River on New Year's Day`01/14/2011`Import Author`Originally published January 2, 2011--Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle was one of hundreds of canoeists and kayakers who paddled the Chicago River on New Year's Day.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County says 220 paddlers participated in Saturday's Happy Canoe Year! event. Officials say the five and a half mile float started near Winnetka at Skokie Lagoons and ended at Linne Woods in Morton Grove.

It was the 26th year for the annual event.

Click here for the original story from GreenfieldReporter.com

Originally published December 21, 2010 -- County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has named two experienced leaders to head her purchasing team.

Maria De Lourdes Coss was selected to serve as the Purchasing Agent. E. LaVerne Hall will serve as Director of Contract Compliance.

Maria De Lourdes Coss most recently served as the Director of Purchasing at the University of Illinois – Chicago’s Office of Business & Financial Services. She also served as the Managing Deputy Procurement Officer for the City of Chicago’s Department of Procurement Services.

E. LaVerne Hall most recently served as the Director of the Office of Business Diversity for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). She also previously worked for Target Group, Inc as well as the Women’s Business Development Center.

“Lourdes and LaVerne truly reflect our commitment to bringing in talented, innovative leadership throughout the County,” said Preckwinkle. “They have been tasked with leading our purchasing team, which will immediately begin working to identify cost saving initiatives. Cost-effective and quicker purchasing of strategic items will save taxpayers millions of dollars in the first year. Over time, we will improve the purchasing process, help build a more responsive and effective purchasing function and improve relations with vendors.”

As Purchasing Agent, Coss is committed to working to reduce procurement costs through strategic sourcing, a key initiative from Preckwinkle’s transition report. Currently, standard items, such as desktop computers, are often purchased separately by each elected official. Pooling the purchasing power of all elected officials will enable the County to renegotiate with vendors for more favorable prices.

“I am excited about the opportunity and honored to join the Preckwinkle team,” Coss remarked on Tuesday.

Hall shares Preckwinkle’s commitment to the successful engagement and development of minority-and women-owned businesses. Halls’ focus will be to improve the current MBE/WBE program upon by expanding the amount of procurement that is tracked and focusing on metrics around capacity building and job creation within these businesses – instead of simply speaking to amounts contracted to these firms.

“The County can, and must, play a more active role in helping build minority-owned and women-owned businesses. Under my administration, minority-owned and women-owned businesses will see increased engagement from the County and be provided resources that will help see their businesses grow. We will be looking to establish partnerships with non-profit agencies focused on capacity building and job creation for MBEs and WBEs. By promoting contracting opportunities to MBE and WBEs, the County’s growth and economic stability is enhanced,” said Preckwinkle.

“I look forward to serving the citizens of Cook County. I am a small business advocate and I will play an active role in helping build minority and women owned businesses, particularly as it relates to job creation. We have the ability to set a new standard for supplier diversity programs and that’s a goal we’re going to strive for in the coming years,” said Hall.

Another key initiative in Preckwinkle’s transition report is to publish cross-County purchasing information. Under the leadership of Coss and Hall, as well as new Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly and Chief Information Officer Greg Wass, the County will publish up to date, easily accessibly information on bids and purchasing contracts across the County, including vendor information, goods and services purchased and contract terms.

“County residents should be able to find out where their taxes are going, including which vendors are receiving contracts and what the terms are. I hope that the other County elected officials will work with our new team to help us launch an innovative, new County purchasing website. I think this is an important step towards the transparency and accountability we need to restore the faith the Cook County government,” said Preckwinkle.

Originally published December 22, 2010 -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was joined today by Cook County Board Finance Committee Chairman John Daley and a group of County elected officials including Assessor Joseph Berrios, Cook County Health and Hospital System Chief Executive Officer William Foley, Recorder of Deeds Eugene “Gene” Moore, Clerk David Orr, Treasurer Maria Pappas and Board of Review Commissioners Dan Patlak and  Larry Rogers, Jr., all of whom have pledged to make the necessary cuts from their 2011 budgets.

As previously reported, the 2011 budget deficit is an estimated $487 million. By statute, the County Board of Commissioners must approve a balanced budget by the end of February.

On Nov. 18, Preckwinkle invited the 11 County elected officials to a formal meeting to discuss the budget challenges and outline her plan to request 21 percent cuts in the three-quarters remained in FY2011 in order to meet those challenges. (16 percent annualized). More recently, these same elected officials were asked by the President’s Office to submit by Dec. 23 proposed budgets that reflect this reduction.

Preckwinkle said the assembled elected officials have demonstrated a serious commitment to solving the County budget challenges through a spirit of collaboration.

“I have pledged to assemble a team to help me balance the County budget and today you see the start of that team. I want to thank them for joining me today. In particular I want to thank Finance Chairman Daley for his help and support.” she said.

“President Preckwinkle has clearly outlined her administration’s plan for reducing the cost of government, while maintaining the level of essential services that citizens expect from Cook County. I stand with her in full support to help achieve this goal,” said Chairman Daley.

The Chief Judge relayed his commitment to trying to meet a 21 percent reduction. “We are currently considering ways to find savings and make cuts to meet that challenge,” said Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans.

The Chief Judge applauded President Preckwinkle her leadership and her efforts to restore transparency to the budget process.

“The Treasurer’s office is committed to do its part to help solve the County’s budget deficit. My office pledges to meet the necessary budget cuts. We are looking at ways to introduce cost saving measures make the Treasurer’s office more efficient. I thank the President for her leadership,” said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

The Office of the County Board President also released today a Budget Summary to help guide the public through the budget process that will unfold over the coming weeks.

President Preckwinkle said the release of the Budget Summary is a key part of a comprehensive effort to bring transparency to the County budget process.

“We have a tremendous budget challenge before us and we have less than six weeks to meet this challenge. It’s important that the public gains a meaningful understanding of the $3.5 billion county budget and the role of the President, Board of Commissioners and the county’s elected officials in the budget process. Not enough people know about how we get to that $3.5 billion figure and, to me, it’s a major transparency issue,” she said.

“In that spirit of transparency, we will be going out to meet with the public across Cook County to discuss the budget. We will hold Cook County accountable to its residents,” she said.

The Budget Summary also outlines how President Preckwinkle is seeking to find savings and make cuts in her own office and highlights several of the initiatives she introduced since taking office, including a compensation audit at the County’s health clinics and hospitals and a capital moratorium project that will allow for the review of nearly 200 projects with an estimated price tag of over $900 million.

“The objective in my office is the same as it is across the county, in all departments and bureaus – to reduce spending by 21 percent by cutting waste, inefficiencies and redundancies. I have said that no one will be absolved and that no one will be alone in making these tough decisions and we’re working on a daily basis to identify areas where we can realize cost saving,” Preckwinkle said.

President Preckwinkle also announced today the creation of a new annual County award – “The Frontline Award” – for the County department that submits the best idea to improve services in a cost-effective way. Details about the award will be forthcoming.

Cook County Officials & IL Secretary of State Promote Organ Donation
Originally published January 4, 2011 -- Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele (2nd) in a partnership with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Secretary of State Jesse White and the Cook County Board of Commissioners are recognizing the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network and Donate Life Illinois for their work to promote awareness of organ and tissue donations.

The Cook County Board is scheduled to approve today (Tuesday) a proclamation to recognize Jan. 4, 2011 as Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Day in Cook County.

Preckwinkle said it’s important to make opportunities to promote organ and tissue donations.

“More than 5,000 people here in Illinois are waiting right now life-saving organ transplants. We all know someone who has been touched by this issue. It’s an honor to be able to salute the people at Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network and Donate Life Illinois who are working day in and day out to coordinate and promote organ donations. Becoming an organ donor is an important personal commitment that saves tens of thousands of lives every year,” she said.

Steele is a recent recipient of an organ donation. In November 2010, he received a kidney his sister, Joyce Mosely donated during a successful procedure. Steele said his surgery and his sister’s generosity has helped him make a new commitment to promote education about organ donation in Cook County.

“This experience has taught me the importance of increasing awareness about preventative health care and education on illnesses that so often afflict members of our community. More importantly I would like to encourage people to learn more about becoming living organ donors and/or organ donors,” he said.

Minorities make up more than half of the patients on the Organ/Tissue Donor Registry.

White said it’s important for African-American leaders to promote increased awareness of organ and tissue donations. African-Americans, as a group, are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes and hypertension, both of which can lead to the need for an organ transplant in not property treated.

“I commend Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, and the Cook County Board for helping to bring awareness to the issue of organ and tissue donation,” said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who administers the state’s Organ/Tissue Donor Registry.  “Illinois has one of the largest organ and tissue donor registries in the nation with over 5.5 million, but sadly, each year, more than 300 lives are lost due to the lack of organs.  Currently there are almost 5,000 people waiting for life-saving organs.  You can help by signing up to become an organ and tissue donor at LifeGoesOn.com. By joining the registry, many people can get the second chance that Commission Steele was fortunate enough to receive. ”

Under White’s leadership, Illinois has built one of the nation’s largest donor registries with more than 5.5 million participants.

White said donating blood is one simple way people can help. More than 4.5 million lives are saved each year through blood transfusions and 40,000 pints of blood are used daily in the United States.

“These types of organ transplants we hear about, they cannot happen without blood donations so we try to remind people about how donating blood is something they should try to do regularly,” White said.

Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network is a federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organization that coordinates organ and tissue donations and services to families of donors in the northern portion of Illinois and northwest Indiana. Gift of Hope works with 183 hospitals in educating some 11.7 million residents in their service area about donations and how to register as organ and/or tissue donors.

Donate Life Illinois is a coalition of donation-related agencies responsible for organ, tissue, eye, blood and marrow donation, education and organ/tissue donor registration.

Steele discussed his experiences and his sponsorship of the resolution at a press conference scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on the County Building, 118 N. Clark St., in the 5th Floor lobby.

He was joined by Preckwinkle, White and Dr. Joseph Levanthal, M.D. PHD, Director of Living Donor Kidney Transplant, Program Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Jackie Lynch, Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network; and Dr. Terry Mason, Cook County Bureau of Health Services.

The resolution will be presented to Jackie Lynch of Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network at the board meeting this Tuesday morning.

This week's topic is the 2011 Cook County Budget.  Want to know something about how the budget process works?  Ask Kurt Summers, Chief of Staff to Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President.

Once you've asked your questions, keep coming back.  Every week or so, you'll be able to see and hear the answers to selected questions in a video segment.

Click here or on the image above to ask your question.

Find out more about the 2011 Budget

The links below will take you deeper into the intricacies of the Cook County budget.  The Budget Recommendation is the same set of documents used by Cook County officials to debate the budget.  The summary is an easier to use version for someone who wants to know more than what they'd get in the media.

Attend a public meeting or hearing

Are you interested in attending budget hearings or meetings?  The public is welcome to learn more about the budget and Cook County Government by coming to any or all of our public proceedings.  Click here for a list of public meetings and hearings about the 2011 Cook County budget.

Originally published January 18, 2011 -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle introduced today the County’s new Chief Financial Officer, Tariq G. Malhance.

Malhance has 25 years of experience in public finance and most recently served as Senior Vice President of Private Equity of Unicorn Investment Bank,and President of UIB Capital, Inc. in Chicago. He retired in November 2005 from the City of Chicago after a remarkable 25-year career.

Between 2002 and 2005, he was the City Comptroller and was responsible for overseeing all municipal accounting, auditing and financial reporting. He also directed the city’s employee benefit programs, set financial policies and prepared the city’s $6 billion annual budget in conjunction with the City Budget Director.

Preckwinkle said her administration of the county places a priority on fiscal responsibility and careful financial planning and Malhance is the right choice to guide the county’s finances in the years to come.

“The county is at a crossroads and our financial well-being is essential. We sought out Mr. Malhance because he is a true professional and he has a set of skills that are needed to restore the county’s financial security. His knowledge and experience will be a tremendous asset for our administration, our employees and the residents of Cook County,” she said.

Malhance said he is excited to help the county set a new standard in the critical area of finance.

“I would like to thank President Preckwinkle for her confidence and I look forward to the challenge of submitting a balanced budget for 2011 and working on measures that will  ensure the county’s fiscal health in the future,” he said.

Preckwinkle said Malhance will begin working with her staff immediately. The county’s 2011 budget will take center stage for the next six weeks. The Office of the Cook County Board President must submit a budget proposal in the coming weeks and the Cook County Board of Commissioners must approve a balanced budget by the end of February.

“Time is an issue and the public is counting on us to deliver a responsible budget in the short term and a new sustainable model for the way we utilize their tax dollars over the long term. We’re working diligently towards those goals,” Preckwinkle said.

Originally published January 10, 2011 -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle took new steps today to increase transparency and accountability in her Administration, introducing the Make Cook County More Efficient program and an online public event calendar.

To help address both the short and long-term fiscal challenges, the county is turning to its greatest asset: the residents of Cook County. Residents now have the opportunity to send cost-saving and efficiency ideas via an online survey that can be found on the Cook County Web site, cookcountyil.gov

“Solving immediate budget crisis is just the first step. We want to implement innovative new ideas and policies that will make the county run more efficiently. We’re counting on the residents who interact with the county to help us to this through the Make Cook County More Efficient program. We have continually emphasized the importance of collaboration and that means working with the public to meet these challenges together,” Preckwinkle said.

The Office of the County Board President will also begin publishing the President’s public schedule online. The new addition to the county Web site represents another commitment to one of her office’s core guiding principles: transparency and accountability. It’s formatted as an easy to read Google calendar and will be updated on a regular basis.

“My commitment to making Cook County government more transparent and accountable to its residents is a central priority for my administration. Everyone should see that Cook County government is serving and working for you,” Preckwinkle said.

The new Office of the County Board President Public Calendar can also be viewed by visiting cookcountyil.gov.

Both projects were developed in collaboration with the new County Chief Information Officer Greg Wass. Wass formerly served as the CIO for the State of Illinois and was an early hire in President Preckwinkle’s administration.

“The goals set by President Preckwinkle are very clear. Making the public part of the legislative process is one of the best ways to increase transparency. This is an important first step. We will continue to use technology to build bridges between the public and our elected officials and we’re looking forward to hearing your ideas as we build a better Cook County,” Wass said.

Preckwinkle introduces new performance based management and budgeting initiative
Originally published January 19, 2011 -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday announced a new initiative to address major components of her administration’s vision for Cook County government.

The new performance based management and budgeting ordinance, which was introduced today by the Cook County Board of Commissioners, aims to add transparency, accountability and fiscally responsible practices to the budget process that all county elected officials, agencies, bureaus and departments must complete each year.

“We often hear talk about responsible spending and cutting waste, but what are needed are practices that reinforce these principles. The planning process for future county budgets must include meaningful, objective performance measures. I’m taking the lead in this process to ensure that the county is accountable for the tax dollars that fund our budget and the functions we must provide for the public,” said Preckwinkle.

The new initiative requires that each county agency and department prepare a quarterly report in which it defines its mission and establishes measurable goals for achieving desirable results for those who benefit from its services, foremost the taxpayers who fund those services.

Preckwinkle will be chairing the performance management review sessions that are outlined in the initiative. She and her staff will also take an active role in assisting each agency and department in mapping out these new performance management documents.

Preckwinkle said this initiative centralizes the disparate operations of the county.

“Grants, fees, staffing levels, benefits, salaries and capital projects — these are important items that relate to our county’s financial situation, both on the revenue and expenditure sides of the budget equation. We’re setting up a new system in which these items will be reviewed on a regular basis so they can be assessed, monitored and incorporated into the budget,” she said.

“You cannot manage without measuring. This performance management effort is about improving services. Businesses and municipalities have implemented similar programs and have had great success with improving services to customers and residents.”

For many years, transfers and other personnel practices have allowed budgets to spiral upward well after the annual budget is approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners. This ordinance seeks to end these practices.

“I encourage you to read through this ordinance. These are the steps we need to take to professionalize Cook County, to ensure that we budget in the same way that the people of Cook County must balance their checkbooks each month. Mission drift is a challenge in Cook County. The bottom line is these new rules connect activities across the county to outcomes that will limit spending and improve services for the people of Cook County,” Preckwinkle said.

Make Cook County More Efficient

In these difficult economic times, innovative thinking is more important than ever. Cook County government is facing significant challenges. Cook County must address a 21 percent budget gap for the remaining three quarters of FY2011. Fresh thinking is needed to help solve this budget crisis and put Cook County on a sustainable path.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants your ideas on how to build Cook County into the best-run county government in the country.

As citizens, you have firsthand knowledge of how government in Cook County works, and the ways in which it doesn’t. President Toni Preckwinkle has made an unwavering commitment to open, honest and efficient government that provides higher quality services at lower costs.

Your ideas, in combination with our own commitments laid out in the transition report, can help transform County government.

The County is looking for your innovative, high impact ideas that will create greater fiscal responsibility, increase transparency and accountability, improve services, and make the County into an innovative leader.

President Toni Preckwinkle Unveils FY 2011 Forest Preserve Budget Recommendation

Cook County Forest Preserve District Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveiled her FY 2011 Executive Budget Recommendation for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  The balanced budget holds the line on property taxes for the third straight year in a row.

“This budget is sustainable in that it holds the line on taxes for the third year in a row, calls for increased operational efficiencies and provides for the continued expansion of our holdings and programming,” said President Preckwinkle.  “We are setting a new standard with an unprecedented effort to serve Cook County’s families, our volunteers and the visiting public at large.”

The FY 2011 budget includes a total appropriation of $160.2 million dollars and provides:

A $57.1 million dollar operating budget for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County;

Contributions to the Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden of $14.88 million dollars and $9.35 million dollars, respectively;

A contribution of $4.5 million dollars towards land acquisition;

The elimination of three positions and addition of nine front-line and police personnel, including a Compliance Administrator to ensure full compliance with the Shakman Decree;

An intergovernmental agreement with Cook County government allowing the County to perform the Secretary of the Board and Intergovernmental Affairs functions.  The two positions previously responsible for these duties are not funded in this budget; and

The creation of three new programs, all focused on creating new opportunities for volunteers and potential preserve partner organizations.

All of the documents relating to the FY 2011 Executive Budget Recommendation, including the proposed budget and the President’s full speech, are available to be viewed at the Cook County Forest Preserve District's website.

Sweet Home Cook County exhibit now on display

An exhibit from Cook County Clerk David Orr's office showcasing Cook County's native celebrities and their achievements is now on display in the Daley Center concourse.

The Sweet Home Cook County exhibit fills 12 display cases in the Pedway between City Hall and the Daley Center. It features photos, a timeline and memorabilia for history-makers from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.

A great many cultural giants were born right here, Orr said. It's a legacy we shouldn't take for granted. What's more, we've dug up the trivia showing how many of them are connected to one another by films, jobs or their hometowns.

The Sweet Home Cook County exhibit is also available as an online database where curious fans, librarians and teachers can explore brief biographies of nearly 150 home-grown celebrities. The database also links people together by their year of birth, hospital where they were born, schools they attended and their hometown.

The Clerk's Bureau of Vital Records maintains the birth records of these notables among its 27 million vital records dating back to 1871.

Whether you're a fan of music, art, literature, politics or sports, Sweet Home Cook County will provide you plenty of hometown pride, Orr said.

We want this exhibit to inspire others to dig up their own roots, Orr added. Through the Clerk's Genealogy Online -- a portal to all of Cook County's genealogical birth, death and marriage records -- genealogists can piece together the past.

Under Illinois law, genealogical records are defined as:
Birth certificates older than 75 years;
Marriage certificates older than 50 years;
Death certificates older than 20 years.

Sweet Home Cook County will remain in the Daley Center concourse until March 24. The Sweet Home Cook County website, with additional photos and short biographies, will remain available indefinitely. A video of the display is posted on YouTube.

Cook County Board President outlines budget plan for 2011

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is committed to transparency and accountability in every aspect of County government.

This Web page provides you with the information you need to learn more about President Preckwinkle’s 2011 Executive Budget Recommendation and the budget process.

2011 Cook County Budget Address

Delivered by Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, February 1, 2011

Thank you very much. I would like to say a special word of thanks to all the County-wide elected officials who came together, starting back in November, to begin the challenge of filling a $487 million deficit and preparing a balanced budget.

Thank you to the members of my administration, who have been working tirelessly for the last 2 months.

I am here today to present my FY2011 Budget to the Cook County Board of Commissioners and to once again reaffirm my commitment to working with them to restore fiscal responsibility within Cook County government.

In my inaugural address, I promised that I would measure my administration by four key tenets: fiscal responsibility, innovative leadership, transparency and accountability and improved services.

That is a commitment I am determined to keep - with your help. Today I present to you a budget measured by those same principles.

On Nov. 18, I called a meeting inviting the 11 County elected officials to begin discussion of the $487 million deficit we faced.  This deficit is greatly impacted by fixed costs, such as health insurance and workers compensation that require long-term structural changes. That challenge meant that each of us – as County-wide elected officials – must find 16 percent in savings in our offices, and do so with a focus on the operating costs in the budget equation.

This document is the product of a team of professionals from across the county that includes my fellow elected officials, department administrators and employees.

This proposed budget represents the first steps of a restructuring of County finances and a long-term plan that will address the structural budget deficit and lay the groundwork for the rollback back of the county sales tax increase.

It is through a commitment to this collaborative process that we have been able to make historic changes to this budget, all in the interest of building a sustainable financial future for the county government.

At our initial meetings, with our elected officials, I asked each of them to cut their operating budget by 16 percent. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

However, I am pleased to tell you that, by working together, we successfully reached an average 15 percent reduction in operations supported by general funds and select special funds.

While these cuts are significant – they were done with consideration and compassion for the services we provide to our residents.

For example, the Public Defender effectively articulated the negative impact that a 16 percent cut would produce – that too many would be left without access to legal representation. We agreed that we could reach 10 percent. This same standard was offered to and met by the State’s Attorney.

This was in part made possible by, the Cook County Health and Hospital System – under the leadership of Bill Foley – which was able to pledge a 21% cut in their subsidy. This is the result of expediting the implementation of their strategic plan.

This past weekend, my staff and I worked with Sheriff Tom Dart and his staff on a solution that would reduce his budget, but allow him the flexibility he needs to run the county jails and protect our residents. The Sheriff has agreed to cut his budget by 12 percent to contribute to our effort toward solving the budget challenge.

We are committed to working together to identify efficiency and cost saving initiatives throughout the criminal justice system.

Our two offices will begin a joint taskforce to address issues involving employee absences and the use of the Family and Medical Leave Act by county personnel. We will also look for ways to streamline County operations by pursuing shared service opportunities and working to eliminate layers of management.

These initiatives reflect our commitment to cutting spending without impacting the County’s ability to carry out its mission of providing quality services to Cook County residents.

As I’ve said before – no one will be alone and no one will be absolved.

For that same reason, I was determined that the President’s office should lead by example as we worked through this financial crisis.

In the Office of the President, we made a 17% cut to the overall operating budget. Within my own office, we cut staff by 30 percent. We reduced non-personnel costs by 51 percent.  On top of that, I took a 10 percent pay cut.

However, this budget proposal isn’t just about cutting operating budgets – it’s also about instituting the structural changes that will increase efficiencies and promote fiscal responsibility throughout the County for years to come.

We targeted the historically most inefficient departments, like the Highways Department. We reviewed their budgets, the way they utilized personnel and the way they ran their offices and we made recommendations to improve the way each department was run. We asked our department administrators to identify inefficiencies and make short- and long-term plans to remediate them.

As we make cuts to wasteful government spending, we’ve worked to identify new, fiscally responsible revenue initiatives for the County. First, the County will more aggressively pursue late and unpaid taxes, in particular those businesses not paying County cigarette taxes.

Second, currently buyers in foreclosure sales pay fees to a private company to complete judicial asset sales. Now, the Sheriff will take a more prominent role providing this service and collecting the associated revenues.

Third, we have identified certain services – such as those provided by the Law Library – where we will increase the fees to match the costs.

Lastly, some of the revenue projections reflect closing tax loopholes, such as charging the luxury tax to boxes at sporting events.

However, just pursuing the revenues that the County is owed, we can bring in roughly $19 million in new funds in 2011.

In order to make investments to improve County operations, the County is restructuring its outstanding debt obligations to smooth its payments due. The net present value of this restructuring is approximately $60 million.

It is not enough simply to cut Government; we have to rethink the way it works. Take for example the President’s office, which exemplified the County’s lack of budget controls. The President’s office proper was allocated $2.3 million. However, upon walking in the door, we quickly realized that they were actually spending at a rate of $2.9 million. That means – in order to make our 17 percent cut – we had to cut $1 million from our budget.

Moving forward, the budget controls we put in place will be non-negotiable. What is budgeted for certain office is what will be spent and it’s our goal to have departments that come in under budget at the end of the year.

The planning process for future county budgets must include meaningful, objective performance measures. I’m taking the lead in this process to ensure that the county is accountable for the tax dollars that fund our budget and the functions we must provide for the public. Each county agency and department will be required to prepare a quarterly report in which it establishes measurable goals and articulates how it is meeting those goals.

Grants, fees, staffing levels, benefits, salaries and capital projects — these are important items that relate to our county’s financial situation, both on the revenue and expenditure sides of the budget equation. We’re setting up a new system in which these items will be reviewed on a regular basis so they can be assessed, monitored and incorporated into the budget.

You cannot manage without measuring first. This performance management effort is about improving services. Businesses and municipalities have implemented similar programs and have had great success with improving services to customers and residents.

In my inaugural address, I pledged that the FY 2011 budget will include a commitment to reduce the sales tax by 0.25% in FY 2012 and 0.25% in FY 2013.

I remain committed to that pledge and I am currently working with fellow Board members to introduce such an amendment to the FY2011 budget.

But we must break the habits that got us here. We must build a new foundation to stabilize our finances.

Right now, we are already in the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 and we just now proposing a budget. When I took office, there was no working budget. No draft of a financial plan. As I’ve said before, this is a bad practice. That’s why, as soon as we pass the FY2011 Budget, we will begin to work on next year’s. In previous years, the budget was developed over a period of six months. It’s a time consuming process and it will take many months to overhaul the budget process and build it in a way that incorporates the new initiatives that we have developed.

A critical component of this is performance based management and budgeting which aims to add transparency, accountability and fiscally responsible practices to the budget process. It involves a process that all county elected officials, agencies, bureaus and departments must complete each year. The process requires that each county agency and department prepare a quarterly report in which it defines its mission and establishes measurable goals for achieving desirable results for those who benefit from its services, foremost the taxpayers who fund those services. These metrics will be used to measure progress. Businesses and municipalities alike have implemented similar programs and have had great success with improving services to their clients.

Cook County has long been in a need of a comprehensive desk audit. We have employees who lack job titles or have job titles that do not match their job description. In some cases, employees do not even have formal job descriptions. Our administrators can’t determine redundancies or how to best utilize their resources without this very basic information.

We have engaged a pro-bono consultant to begin working on a comprehensive desk audit of the 2,000 employees under the President’s purview and we hope to expand this effort across the county. The report that is generated by this project will give us the ability to right-size the organization, specifically in terms of the ratio of managers to employees, and we’re starting in the President’s Office. This critical initiative will be completed within my first 100 days in office. Already, the Treasurer has also announced a desk audit – and we are hopeful that others will soon follow.

The County spends many tens of millions of dollars on purchasing and procurement. In the 2011 budget, we estimate we can save $12 million by using contingency contracting, improving the way our organization is designed and the process by which we purchase materials and services while embracing our commitment to partnering with minority and women-owned vendors.

We’re making county government leaner and meaner by increasing efficiency, cross training to make give our personnel a more diverse skill set and asking our employees to do more. We’re going to refocus on the county’s core mission and the services we provide to residents and then build on the foundation of County government.

These are the steps we must take and follow through on if we are going to change the culture of County government.

I want a County that promotes opportunity and innovation and demands responsibility and accountability. On www.CookCountyIL.gov we have posted the full budget, a budget summary, and the schedule of our upcoming budget hearings.

To the Board of Commissioners, let me further say that I want to work with all of you on this. I realize this is a challenging issue. But we must address it. We cannot continue this spending without control; managing without measure. We can do better. And I will work to do better.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle Issues State of Emergency

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announces that due to the severe winter storm and hazardous travel conditions, Cook County is in a state of emergency and County employees under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President – except those performing essential services required to provide for the public health and safety of our residents or are required for the continuity of government functions- are instructed to stay home on Wednesday, February 2, 2011. Regular County operations will resume on Thursday, February 3, 2011.  County employees with questions should contact their Department Head or Bureau Chief for more information.

Cook County remains committed to the continuation of essential government functions during this state of emergency.  The Cook County Highway Department, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the Department of Facilities Management are among the Departments will assist in the continuation of services.  All other non-essential offices will be closed and services shall resume on February 3, 2011.

Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is on stand-by and ready to respond to emergencies within Cook County. DHSEM is also asking that responders be cognizant when outdoors and contact the county's 9-1-1 center for assistance if a resident within Cook County requires the use of one of 30 warming centers. Cook County municipalities requiring Cook County or Illinois resources throughout the storm can call (312) 603-8180.

President Preckwinkle requests that the separately elected officials of Cook County and the Independent Health and Hospitals System engage in measures to ensure the continuity of all essential services and if feasible, instruct staff that are not required to perform essential services to remain home on Wednesday, February 2, 2011.  Health care services will be available as directed by the Independent Health and Hospitals System and the various Cook County Hospitals shall remain open.

President Preckwinkle encourages drivers to stay off the roads where possible and remain home during this winter storm.

Nominate Your Community Leader to be a "2011 Community Changer"

In recognition of Black History Month, President Preckwinkle will be sponsoring the 2011 Community Changers Award to recognize outstanding individuals who have contributed to a positive change in their community with a positive attitude and a willingness to help in whatever capacity necessary to accomplish a task or goal.

President Preckwinkle is seeking community input for the identification of nominees for this award.  A selection committee of community leaders will be charged with selecting the awardees.

Nominees must be a resident of Cook County.  They should be individuals who, either in a professional or volunteer capacity have made significant contributions to the well-being of their community for which they have not received widespread recognition.  There will be six categories that individuals can be nominated for: Business/Entrepreneur; Community Service; Education; Outstanding Achievement Award; Rising Star; and Youth.  Elected officials are not eligible for consideration.

All entries must be received / postmarked by Tuesday, February 22, 2011.

Award recipients will be recognized at the March 1st Board Meeting with a Proclamation honoring their contributions to their community.

AWARD CATEGORIES:

Business/Entrepreneur. This award is intended to recognize a business and/or an entrepreneur who has contributed to the wellbeing of the community that they serve.  Whether it is by funding a program or employees volunteering for a community project/charity, this award will recognize someone who has given back to their community and shared their success with others.

Community Service. This award recognizes the significant contribution of a citizen to the life and welfare of his/her community and its residents. The award recipient will exemplify characteristics of organizing and mobilizing people to benefit the greater community; dedication and perseverance in meeting community needs and fostering the virtues of civic engagement and social responsibility.

Education. This award will be presented to an individual who has made a change in their community in the field of education.  It can be presented to a teacher who goes above and beyond for his/her students or someone who has helped promote the importance of education and helped students achieve educational goals

Outstanding Achievement Award. This award will recognize an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to their community in spite of challenges and obstacles.  This contribution can be in a volunteering capacity, excelling in their professional capacity or administrating an outstanding project in the community.

Rising Star. This award will be presented to an individual who has shown exceptional promise of leadership and service in their community.

Youth. Any young person under the age of 25 can be nominated for this award.  This recognition will be given to a young person who has made an noble contribution to the community with the inspiration of a better future for all.

Everything you need to know about the new Cook County General Business License

By March 1, 2011, all businesses in unicorporated Cook County will be required to hold a General Business License, or GBL.  The purpose of the GBL is to ensure businesses operating in Unincorporated Cook County, are in compliance with public health and public safety standards, as well as with all other County ordinances. This will prevent illegal businesses from negatively influencing legitimate commerce and protect consumers from bad business practices.

Cook County Government has made applying and paying for the license as easy as possible, in this digital world.  Business owners can apply and pay for the license online.  Click to view the video below for a step-by-step overview of how to apply for the Cook County General Business License:

Cook County offices to resume full operations

Cook County Board and Forest Preserve District President Toni Preckwinkle announces that the Cook County offices under her jurisdiction and the Cook County Forest Preserve District will resume full operations on Thursday, February 3, 2011 and further requests that the separately elected officials of Cook County and the Independent Health and Hospitals System resume full operations as well.

President Preckwinkle would like to acknowledge the hard work of many County, State and Municipal staff during this state of emergency and would like to specifically thank the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Cook County Highway Department, the Department of Facilities Management, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, the Cook County Sheriff and the Cook County Forest Preserve District Police for their continuous efforts during this severe winter storm.

Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County families celebrate Chinese New Year
From ABC-7 News Chicago--Chicago is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit.

Cook County President Addresses Chicagoland Chamber Board of Directors

From the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce -- New Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addressed the members of the Chamber Board of Directors at the Board meeting held on Thursday, January 27th. President Preckwinkle highlighted some of the challenges she and her staff have faced during the first fifty days of her presidency. She acknowledged that many of the problems with the County’s bureaucratic structure and budget situation turned out to be much worse than anticipated.