Not only do Cook County commissioners miss a lot of county board meetings, some also played hooky often from the other public agency they head — the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which gets nearly $200 million a year from taxpayers.
Two elected county officials — who make $85,000 a year plus benefits, including pensions — have missed more than one-third of the Forest Preserve board’s monthly meetings this term, which started in December 2014, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.
The commissioners who skipped the most Forest Preserve board meetings in the past three years were Jerry “Iceman” Butler and Bridget Gainer, both Democrats from Chicago.
Butler, who’s not seeking re-election this year, missed slightly more than half of the 42 Forest Preserve board meetings held since he began what would be his last term as a commissioner. He did not return calls seeking comment.
Official attendance records have Gainer not present for 16 of the 42 meetings. That included missing seven consecutive Forest Preserve board meetings between October 2016 and March 2017, minutes of those meetings show.
Gainer — who’s seeking a third term as commissioner and has said she’s considering running for mayor of Chicago in 2019 — ranked lowest among all commissioners for her attendance rate at county board meetings and board committee meetings, the Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago reported last month. Meeting minutes show that the North Side Democrat was absent for 162 of 504 meetings of the board and its committees over the past five years.
In interviews for last month’s Sun-Times and ABC7 reports on county board truancies, Gainer said her outside work for the Aon global consulting firm had no bearing on her absences, instead noting that she’s the only commissioner who is a mother of young children.
Despite the absences from meetings, Gainer said she has accomplished much, citing her roles in the Cook County Land Bank, the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and sick-leave legislation.
“Those results show the balance between work in the county building and work in the community — where no attendance is taken,” Gainer said. “Both are important, and I’ve gotten results for taxpayers in both arenas.”
The Forest Preserve held its most recent board meeting Thursday morning in Palatine, at a building at Camp Reinberg, one of five campgrounds the district opened in 2015.
The proceedings began when Preckwinkle — who has missed just two of the last 42 Forest Preserve board meetings — arrived a few minutes after the scheduled 11 a.m. start time.
Only three commissioners failed to make it to Palatine. Gainer arrived at 11:37 a.m., 13 minutes before Preckwinkle called the meeting to a close.
As with county board meetings, the commissioners with the best attendance records at the Forest Preserve board were John Daley, D-Chicago, and Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park. Luis Arroyo Jr., D-Chicago, also had good attendance. Daley, Boykin and Arroyo haven’t missed a single Forest Preserve Board meeting during this term.
Here are the absentee rates for each commissioner over the past three years:
- Jerry Butler: 52 percent
- Bridget Gainer: 38 percent
- John Fritchey, D-Chicago: 26 percent
- Ed Moody, D-Chicago Ridge: 21 percent
- Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago: 19 percent
- Timothy Schneider, R-Bartlett: 19 percent
- Dennis Deer, D-Chicago: 13 percent
- Stanley Moore, D-Chicago, 12 percent
- Jeffrey Tobolski, D-McCook: 12 percent
- Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview: 5 percent
- Deborah Sims, D-Chicago: 5 percent
- Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park: 3 percent
- Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston: 2 percent
- Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park: 2 percent
- Luis Arroyo Jr.: 0 percent
- John Daley: 0 percent
- Richard Boykin: 0 percent