Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, a South Side and suburban Democrat, isn’t the only one refusing to take the 10 days off without pay that he and the rest of the County Board unanimously agreed to when they passed the 2011 budget.
Last week, Beavers told the Sun-Times the pay cut was illegal – citing the state Constitution, which says sitting elected officials can’t have their salaries boosted or docked – and now Commissioner Earlean Collins is standing with him.
“I wrote a letter, saying ‘I do not wish to have my salary cut,’” Collins said during Tuesday’s regular County Board meeting, referring to a letter she penned to county government officials.
Collins, a Democrat who represents the west side and western suburbs, said her office sacrificed a lot when commissioners OKed another budget measure this year that gave each commissioners equal district office budgets of $360,000, which covers commissioners and staff pay and other expenses; in 2010, Collins had the second highest district office budget at $421,489.
For one Collins staffer, that meant a $15,000 pay cut before the 10 days without pay, she said.
“When this body goes on vacation, my staff and I hit the streets,” Collins said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Every single Saturday and Sunday we are out there with the people because that’s where they are,” she said.
“It’s unfair where they can get no overtime – to ask them to take $15,000, $10,000, $5,000 cuts and take 10 more days out of their pay. That is not equitable, and I will not sit by and take my cut because I know this board nor the president can cut my salary,” said Collins, who like other commissioners earn $85,000 annually.
Collins is sounding a different tune from February when discussed the proposal.
“Can I give up 10 days? Yes. Absolutely,” Collins said Feb. 24, just two days before the final budget was OKed.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who championed the five furlough days and five shutdown days without pay as a way to close a nearly $500 million hole in the $3 billion county budget, responded to Collins during Tuesday’s meeting: “I haven’t asked any one commissioner to do something that I haven’t done myself.”
“I’ve taken the shut down and furlough days as I’ve asked everyone else,” Preckwinkle said.
Most of the 23,000 employees were asked to take the ten days without pay: five furlough days and five government shut-down days. The aim was to save $29 million by the end of the fiscal year, Nov. 30. By the end of August, $16.2 million savings had been achieved, Kurt Summers, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, said after the meeting.
“What kind of message do we send to the 23,000-plus employees that everybody has to take cuts and furlough days except the county commissioners and their staffs,” Commissioner Tim Schneider, a northwest suburban Republican, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I think it’s the wrong message to send. I think we have to have shared sacrifice, we have to lead by example,” he said, noting that he and his staff are taking the unpaid time off.
The discussion was prompted by a new report Preckwinkle commissioned to gauge who was complying with the five furlough days and five shut-down days approved as part of the 2011 budget package. She sent a letter last week to the commissioners thanking those who had complied and pointing the finger at those who hadn’t.
But on Tuesday, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey chastised the administration for inaccuracies in the report, prompting Preckwinkle to withdraw it and have County Comptroller Connie Kravitz recalculate some of the numbers.