Battle lines are drawn between Cook County Board commissioners over furlough days

September 21, 2011

(WBEZ/Tony Arnold)
The Cook County Board, being sworn in December of 2010.

Some Cook County Board commissioners are refusing to take furlough days, even though the unpaid days off were in the budget passed in February. Commissioners had agreed then to take five unpaid days off, plus five government shutdown days, to help cut this year's budget. But Commissioner William Beavers said he's refusing to take the days to protest a policy decision by board President Toni Preckwinkle.

According to Beavers, Preckwinkle should have provided financial support for southern Cook County Hospitals.

"My deal was that she keep the hospitals open. She decided she was going to close Provident Hospital, Oak Forest Hospital, then my deal was off," said Beavers on Wednesday. "How are people going to get from the southwest suburbs to county hospital?"

"The money that I was giving back was supposed to go to keep the hospitals open," he elaborated.

Meanwhile, Board President Toni Preckwinkle says Beaver's decision is "bad policy and practice."

"He's chosen not to [take furlough days], and I think that's regrettable," said Preckwinkle, adding that she's taken almost all of furlough days and unpaid holidays, and expects to have taken them by November 30.

Commissioners John Fritchey and Elizabeth Doody Gorman are on President Preckwinkle's side. Gorman said it sets a bad precedent for commissioners to not take furlough days they've signed into budget.

"My concern is that the commissioners are the ones who set policy, and lead by example," said Gorman. "If we're all taking furlough days, and the commissioners aren't, it's something that demotivates the workforce."

"I'm a team player...and I think we all need to play on the same team," she added.

Preckwinkle said she might call for the entire Cook County government to shutdown for ten days next fiscal year, instead of allowing commissioners to choose their own furlough days.

"I don't know what we're going to do, I'm just saying there's great equity in the shutdown days, and then you're not depending on people to make decisions on when they're going to choose furlough days, and whether they do them at all," she said.