Preckwinkle, Dart give silent treatment as budget spat flares
BY LISA DONOVAN Cook County Reporter January 28, 2011 7:52PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The budget standoff between Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart intensified Friday with both elected leaders arguing their cases to just about everyone but each other.
“What happened, in effect, at the beginning of this week is the sheriff’s folks just stopped talking to us,” Preckwinkle said of Dart’s staff while talking about the budget during a Sun-Times editorial board meeting on Friday.
Dart was floored by that characterization of budget negotiations. His spokesman Steve Patterson said: “We’ve had no indication she was unhappy with anything. The first time we heard about it was from the media. She shook our [staff’s] hands and thanked us.”
And he says he has proof that Preckwinkle and Dart’s staff were phoning and text messaging about the budget through the week.
Dart’s staff called Preckwinkle’s advisors to ask if he could join her in the already scheduled meeting before the Sun-Times editorial board to discuss her proposed 2011 budget.
But Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times she wasn’t interested in sharing the stage with Dart.
“The issues we have between us should be worked out in private, not in front of an editorial board,” Preckwinkle said, describing Dart’s offer as “quite odd, if you ask me.”
Patterson, Dart’s spokesman, said: “Given the fact that she’s gone to media outlets and provided incorrect information we thought a face-to-face meeting in front of an independent body asking questions on behalf of the public might bring an end to some of the rancor.”
He’s referring, he says, to the comment that the sheriff’s staff cut off communication.
It was unclear when – or if – Dart and Preckwinkle might talk to hash things out.
But Preckwinkle said after Monday she had to get her budget document to the printer so she can officially introduce her proposed $3.1 billion spending package Tuesday. That plan shaves $73 million from Dart’s budget alone — part of a larger package of cuts to shore up a $487 million deficit. Dart, who says he has slashed $43 million, has said steeper cuts could hurt his ability to carry out a range of law enforcement duties, ranging from street patrol to security at the jail and courthouses.
The last time Preckwinkle and Dart spoke to each other was Jan. 20 after another testy exchange that played out in the media.
Preckwinkle told reporters then that elected leaders — including Dart — needed to cut their budgets 16 percent or she would do it for them. Dart sarcastically suggested in another press conference that, perhaps, his entire budget could be scrapped and he could patrol the county and guard the jail on his bicycle.
Still miffed about the comment, Preckwinkle told the editorial board Friday: “The sheriff thinks the sky is falling, we don’t.”
She said that every day, one out of every five staffers in the sheriff’s office takes off work under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act. She argues if the sheriff could zero in on abuse and cut that number in half the county could save $36 million.
Accompanying Preckwinkle to the meeting was County Commissioner John Daley, the powerful head of the county board’s Finance Committee. He backs Preckwinkle’s spending plan, including the cuts in the sheriff’s office, and believes she has the nine — out of 17 — votes needed to pass it.
“I believe there’s nine votes and as I said if the sheriff believes he cannont cut his budget he’s explain it to the commissioners at the board,” Daley said.
Beyond the sheriff’s office, Preckwinkle said she expects roughly 8 percent or nearly 2,000 of the 23,700 employees on the county government payroll to be laid off to close the budget gap.
A spokeswoman for Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, who has about 400 people on the payroll, confirmed that 53 staffers in his office were told Friday that they’d be losing their jobs as a result of the sweeping budget cuts. In addition some 30 jobs that are vacant will go unfilled, said Kelley Quinn.