Toni Preckwinkle was sworn in as president of the Cook County Board this afternoon, promising in her inaugural address to “redefine Cook County’s place as the economic hub of the Midwest” and laying out a plan to eliminate the last half of Todd Stroger’s one percent sales tax increase.
The ceremony in the ornate top floor hall at the Cultural Center started half-an-hour late, because Preckwinkle had so many people to hug. As she circulated through the room, embracing supporters, Preckwinkle’s chattering laugh sounded like the call of a woodland bird.
“I got hugged by Toni!” one man shouted. “I got hugged by Toni! I’m not going to wash this chin tonight!”
After an invocation by a minister, a rabbi and an imam, Preckwinkle took the oath of office as her husband, Zeus, held the Bible and the crowd waved desk-sized Cook County flags. Preckwinkle talked for 15 minutes about her plan to bring “transparency, accountability and efficiency” to Cook County government.
“We have a $487 million deficit,” Preckwinkle said. “That means we need a 21 percent savings in all offices. We’re going to do it without reducing the quality of the services we provide.”
Preckwinkle’s plans for saving money include consolidating the procurement and information technology services of several departments, and reducing her own salary by 10 percent. She also intends to appoint a Chief Performance Officer, to set performance goals for all employees, and to audit the duties and salary of every job on the county payroll.
When Preckwinkle was campaigning, “I met Cook County employees who complained that their co-workers spent the day reading newspapers or talking on their cell phones while they worked hard,” she said.
Preckwinkle will also post all job descriptions, bids and contracts online.
“The days of secrecy in Cook County are over,” she said.
Preckwinkle promised to reduce the sales tax by ¼ of 1 percent in 2012, and a final ¼ of 1 percent in 2013.
The sales tax increase was the result of “a lack of long-range financial planning,” Preckwinkle said. “It was a band-aid solution that allowed Cook County to continue to operate inefficiently.”