Stroger Retaliating By Firing County Employees?

"This is a decision from the president, it comes from on high."

By Carol Marin and Lisa Donovan
|  Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009  |  Updated 4:49 PM CDT
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Chicago's Political Players

He apparently didn't have anything to say to his board.

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Some Commissioners Wonder if County Firing is Payback

Cook County President Todd Stroger says revenge isn't at play in the firing of a county employee.
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An NBC Chicago / Chicago Sun-Times exclusive:

At 9 o'clock Monday morning,  Byron Steele, First Deputy Director of Cook County¹s Department of Facilities Management was called downtown and given the ax.

Why?

Byron Steele believes it was revenge. His brother, Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, had voted twice against County Board President Todd Stroger's veto of a sales tax repeal.

Today's firing does not sit well with the politically prominent Steele family.

Bryon's mother is Bobbie Steele, Todd Stroger's immediate predecessor in the president's post, who served as interim head of the Cook County Board after his father, then-President John Stroger was felled by a massive stroke in 2006.

Though she considered seeking the nomination herself, Bobbie Steele retired and threw her support behind Todd Stroger.

Reached at home this afternoon, she told NBC5 and the Sun-Times, "I'm angry, I don't believe in revenge to anybody."

Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele expressed his own outrage.

"Politics are being played...It's a terrible thing," he said by phone, adding, "I've stood by Todd on everything.  The sales tax veto was the only issue on which we disagreed."

Commissioner Steele said he called the president, "But Todd is not returning my phone calls."  Commissioner Steele said he believes others are also in the process of being terminated but declined to provide details.

Byron Steele's $100,000 a year job has been to manage the 5 million square foot physical plant for the Cook County Department of Corrections, supervising the maintenance of the entire jail compound including 180 tradesmen and engineers.

Called in by his boss, James D'Amico, Byron Steele said he was told, "This is a decision from the president, it comes from on high."

Steele maintains his job evaluations, including those from D'Amico, have been in the excellent to superior range.

As a Shakman-exempt employee, however, Steele serves at the pleasure of the president and doesn't live with union protection.

Asked why Steele was let go, Stroger spokesman Gene Mullins said, "It's not politically motivated whatsoever. He the president said he would continue to evaluate every job under his purview. He wants a tighter ship with the departments under him. Byron is not the first change he's made over the past year."

Mullins added Stroger wants to make the "county work in a more efficient manner" and is talking to department heads to find out if they can "run with less personnel."

But he did not rule out filling Steele's old job.

"He (Stroger) has to look at if you¹re not going in his direction...he's going to find the best person to take the county in the direction, in the path he (Stroger) wants to go down."

The 2010 race for Cook County Board President is shaping up to be a donnybrook in the African American community with Congressman Danny Davis, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), and Clerk of Court Dorothy Brown poised to run against Stroger as well as a lone white candidate, Terry O¹Brien, President of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Commissioner Robert Steele, who has not declared support for any candidate, warned,  "This will hurt Todd Stroger's ability to get elected."

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