High-paying county jobs increased despite cuts
September 9, 2007
BY Steve Patterson Special to the Daily Southtown
As Cook County Board President Todd Stroger looked for jobs to cut during this year's budget battle, union leaders and critics chanted for him to "chop from the top."
But when the budget was finally passed, many complained that Stroger had cut thousands of lower-paid, frontline workers to protect higher-paid, politically connected patronage workers.
A Chicago Sun-Times review of county payroll records reveals that while recent budget cuts did whittle the payroll, the number of high-paid jobs actually increased, meaning layoffs hit low-paid employees hardest. And, records show, Stroger's layoffs and cuts have made him the highest-paid non-hospital employee in county government.
"This budget was designed to enrich the political class at the expense of hard-working, frontline workers who deliver real services to the public," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), who was the loudest critic of Stroger's budget cuts. "These numbers clearly show that bureaucrats and paper-pushers at the top of the food chain were protected. People on the lower end of the scale just got hammered."
Records provided by the county show that while there were 26,731 county employees when Stroger took office in December, that number was down to 24,815 by late July. But the number of people making more than $60,000 grew from 6,497 in December to 7,672 in July. And there was virtually no change in the number of county employees making more than $100,000.
Stroger spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said much of the increase in salaries is because of union contracts signed years ago by the county board.
"One of the county's biggest problems is a structural deficit created by entering into obligations without the revenue to support them," she said, adding that it's also important to offer "competitive salaries in order to attract and retain top health care professionals. There was never any intention to cut more lower-level positions than higher-level ones."
The county's highest-paid employee is Dr. Peter Egofske, who makes $400,000 annually, according to county records.
But last year, the highest-paid employee not working at a hospital was IT director Cathy Maras-O'Leary, with a $190,437 salary. Now, it's Stroger, who makes $170,000, records show.
Those findings won't help Stroger as he prepares to introduce tax increases.
He's expecting the same criticisms that there is too much waste, unnecessary middle management and not enough frontline workers in county government. Yet he's adamant that there is no more fat to cut from the county payroll.
"President Stroger keeps asking us to show him where the waste is. Well, here it is," Commissioner Tim Schneider (R-Bartlett) said of the Sun-Times' findings. "These numbers prove he isn't cutting where he should."