As millions of Chicagoland residents struggle with their own household budgets, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel sent signals Tuesday that he is serious about reining in city costs.
During a joint appearance with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Emanuel announced formation of a six-member city-county committee, charged with identifying areas where the two governments duplicate each other’s services, with an eye toward slashing millions from the public coffers.
"We can’t keep doing business as usual," Emanuel said. "There are things that are being done, where one entity is better at delivering the services, at a cheaper cost."
Both identified health care as an area where there is too much duplication. While the County operates an extensive health care system, the city runs a network of community based clinics.
Preckwinkle noted that while the city specializes in education, the criminal justice system and the courts are a county function. And both would benefit from greater efficiencies.
"We have an education system that is failing our young people and feeding our jails," Preckwinkle said.
The two mentioned other areas, such as highway maintenance and job training, where there is too much duplication and waste.
"To continue to operate in separate silos, or to provide duplicative services, is no longer a responsible option," Preckwinkle said. "I think there’s a way in which it’s possible for us to save money."
One area where the city and county operate virtually parallel services, is in the administration of elections. For years, there has been discussion about whether it would be appropriate to consolidate those operations under the Cook County Clerk, rather than maintaining a separate Chicago Election Board. Currently, Chicago administers its own elections, while County Clerk David Orr oversees the vote in suburban Cook.
"Wherever this goes, whether it’s under the County Clerk, or under a new board, I think it’s the right direction," says Orr, who has long maintained his office should oversee all election operations.
"It’d be much easier if there was one election authority in Cook County. Secondly, you’d save a lot of money."
Not everyone is enthusiastic.
"We can’t imagine taking a step backward," said Chicago Election Board spokesman James Allen, suggesting the voters would not want their elections overseen by an elected official.
"A bi-partisan, non-elected official oversight of the entire apparatus is the best model for transparent election information."
Orr shrugs off the suggestion that his office could not fairly administer elections for Chicago.
"I don’t care, because I’ll be gone by the time they get it done,” he said. “I do think it would be nice for efficiency’s sake, if you didn’t spend so much money on that board, and you had elected officials.”
He noted that county clerks administer elections throughout Illinois.
"All around us they do that. And they may be a Democrat or they may be a Republican. If they’re going to do a good job, they’re going to be fair. If they’re not, they’re going to lose the election."