More Cook County commissioners refuse to take furlough days
BY LISA DONOVAN Cook County Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org September 21, 2011 6:08PM
William Beavers | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: November 10, 2011 3:58PM
The list of Cook County commissioners refusing to take 10 days off without pay before the year’s out — part of a countywide plan to close a half-billion-dollar budget hole — is growing.
Commissioners Joan Patricia Murphy and Deborah Sims said Wednesday they never had any intention of abiding by a budget deal that called on most of the 23,000 county employees to take five floating furlough days and abide by five government shutdown days without pay this year.
Their fellow Democratic Commissioners William Beavers and Earlean Collins also have said in recent days that they’re not taking the time off without pay, calling the furlough and shutdown days illegal pay cuts.
“It’s against the law to do it,” said Murphy, whose district covers a wide swath of the southwestern suburbs. “And they’ve cut so much out of our budgets — they’ve cut travel — and we haven’t had a raise since 2002.”
The commissioners referred to the Illinois Constitution, which doesn’t allow for an increase or decrease in pay during the term of an elected leader serving in local government. That doesn’t prevent commissioners, who earn $85,000 annually, from voluntarily electing to give up some of their pay.
All four commissioners sent letters to the county comptroller, asking for reimbursements for money taken from their paychecks, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I am requesting the any and all monies deducted from my salary due to furlough or shut down days be reimbursed to me at your earliest convenience,” Murphy wrote in a July 27 memo to the county comptroller’s office.
Sims said she voiced her concern over the time off without pay but voted for the budget package that included the provision knowing full well she wouldn’t abide by it.
“I said I disagreed with the furlough days,” Sims told reporters on Wednesday. Echoing comments Mayor Rahm Emanuel made about how furloughs affect city workers, Sims said: “It destroys the morale of the people.”
In addition, Commissioner Robert Steele, also a Democrat, said he’ll take seven days without pay, but has asked the county to pay him for the three remaining days as a “personal protest.”
The furlough days have “not been working very well for us in this year,” said Steele, a Democrat who represents parts of the South and West Sides.
“I am doing my own personal protest,” Steele said. “I don’t feel we as an organization that we have done what we agreed to in 2011. So I’m using the money to donate to a private organization.”
He think a lot more county workers aren’t taking the unpaid days off as promised and that a forthcoming furlough report will prove that.
County officials said in February the savings from the days off without pay would add up to $38 million. But this week, county President Toni Preckwinkle’s chief of staff said the savings would be $29 million.
The 10 days without pay for the 17 commissioners represents a small piece of the savings used to close the $487 million hole in this year’s $3 billion county’s operation — money that helps fund the county courts and jail along with a public health and hospital system serving the poor and uninsured.
Debate over the matter was triggered by a Sun-Times report on a letter Preckwinkle sent to commissioners last week thanking those who are taking the 10 unpaid days this year and letting those who didn’t know she was “disappointed.”
She didn’t name names, but vowed the details would come out in the furlough report, scheduled to be released this week but delayed after commissioners pointed out a series of errors in the report.