Thursday, December 5, 2013

Are we, the people, best off with more, or less, from our political officials?

Watching the Cook County Board at work on Wednesday made me wonder if we’re better off with more, or less, of their presence.

County wishes us 'happy holiday.' Do we like their present?
The issue at stake was the county board approving a schedule for their meetings for 2014. Under the measure that finally got approval, the county board next year will hold one meeting per month – with the exception of August.

THAT’S THEIR SUMMER break. No one is going to take that break away from them. It’s sacred!

But that is a change from past years. Until recently, the county board made a point of meeting twice per month (with the exception of August). This year, they made a point of meeting every three weeks. Which meant some months had two meetings and others had only one.

They’re now going to be down to one session per month for them to quibble over issues, while also spending endless hours pontificating over symbolic resolutions in which they praise each other’s friends.

It can get so mind-numbing that I have to confess, a sheriff’s deputy had to nudge me at one point Wednesday because I had fallen asleep.

SO THE FACT that there will be fewer such meetings? That could be interpreted as a good thing, or a bad thing.

Believe it or not, that was the issue at stake as county board members argued amongst themselves Wednesday (the final vote was 10-6, in favor of having fewer meetings).

County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, may well have hit what many non-political people will consider the key question – she said that the county board members will continue to get the same salaries, even though they’re now expected to show up for fewer meetings.

Agreeing was county Commissioner Timothy Schneider, R- , who said, “The perception will be that we’re doing less work.”

A LOT OF people won’t want to have to take into account that an elective office is not some job where one punches a time card and gets paid by the hour, AND that it’s a post where one is basically on call at all times. Attending the meetings alone aren’t what the job consists of.

Take commissioners John Daley and Deborah Sims, both D-Chicago, along with Joan Patricia Murphy, D-Crestwood, who all used the word “efficiencies” over and over – as in the county board now works more “efficiently” and therefore does not have to meet as often.

Murphy literally went so far as to argue that she could better use time in her suburban office so as to deal with all the people who call her, claiming to have problems with government.

She also argued that the county board will be meeting about as often as the City Council – a fact that county board President Toni Preckwinkle (the former 5th Ward alderman) confirmed.

“I DON’T KNOW why we have to put in more time downtown than the city does,” she said.

As for government meetings, they often are scripted to a heavy degree. Often, the times when officials spout off and criticize each other are the only impromptu moments So the idea that government officials get paid for their work at meetings?


If that were it, then we ought to demand a repayment of their salaries. What they do there isn’t worth it.

WATCHING THIS DISPUTE on Wednesday actually brought an odd image to my mind – that of one-time Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip.

PHILIP: Was he right?
Some people remember the DuPage politico for his blunt-spoken ways. But I remember him for the fact that he was the motivation behind the General Assembly cutting the month of June off its schedule – ending its spring session business around Memorial Day instead of the old traditional June 30.

Philip often gave the impression that he viewed excess government meetings as merely an excuse for government officials to do something stupid or otherwise harmful to the public interest.

Watching the county board at work on Wednesday made me wonder if perhaps he was right!


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