Cook County, Illinois
Cook County is one of 102 counties in the State of Illinois. Its county seat is the city of Chicago. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Cook County is home to approximately 5.5 million people. Cook County's population is larger than that of 29 individual U.S. states and the combined populations of the seven smallest US states] There are over 130 incorporated municipalities in Cook County, the largest of which is Chicago, which makes up approximately 54% of the population of the county. The part of the county that lies outside of the Chicago city limits is divided into 30 townships. Geographically the county is the fifth largest in Illinois by land area and shares the state's Lake Michigan shoreline with Lake County. Cook County is mainly urban and densely populated, containing the city of Chicago and many suburbs. However, there are still some semi-rural areas near the outskirts of the county.
- Main Article: Evaluation of Illinois county websites
- The budget is published.
- Meeting minutes and agendas are published., including committee and subcommittee proceedings
- Elected officials and administrative officials are listed, including pictures and detailed contact information.
- Zoning information is published and includes the availability of online permit payments.
- Permit information is published.
- Local tax information is published.
- New Contracts are available through the Data Catalog. PDF of scanned contract is included.
- Salary information including name, title, department, and annual salary is available.
- Generally, the website includes a lot of information, but you must use the search feature to find it, and the results are not particularly useful.
- No pension information.
- Older contract information not available.
- No audit information.
The 2011 Cook County budget is $2,329,500.
In September 2010 the bond rating agency Fitch's awarded Cook County a 'AA' rating. According to Fitch's Cook County has benefited from historically solid reserve levels and diverse revenue streams, however, recent revenue declines, the repeal of a portion of the sales tax increase and high mandated expenditures for hospitals and jails have pressured general fund reserve levels. Fitch's said the county's debt levels are moderate and expected to remain manageable. However Fitch's said pension liabilities are high, and the funding level remains weak. 
A dozen Cook County contracts are being investigated by the county’s ethics board and inspector general, in July of 2010. Two of the contracts went to businesses that are not registered with the county or state, which is required by state law. According the Chicago Sun Times:
One of the contracts was given to a company by the name of Urban Rapport for $24,975 “to build awareness of the department’s (Department of Environmental Control) energy and conservation program." But a check of state and county records shows that Urban Rapport, run by convicted felon and hip-hop promoter Terrell “Shorty Capone” Harris, isn’t a registered businesses in Illinois. Harris couldn’t be reached for comment. His phone number on the contract was disconnected and, as WFLD-Channel 32 first reported, the West Loop business address he gave is home to another firm that didn’t know of Harris or Urban Rapport. A similar contract to spread the word about the county’s green initiative was given to Arrei Management Inc., once owned by Stroger’s beleaguered chief of staff Oglesby and dissolved in 2008, state records show. Stroger already suspended Oglesby for signing off on a $24,975 contract for her private public relations firm — CGC Communications — in recent months.
- The city of Chicago received $1,360,904,875 of federal stimulus money.
- Cook County received at least $15,958,045 in aid to the Cook County States Attorney and Cook County Housing Authority.
The Cook County check register was originally mandated in December 2009 and provides specific search fields to fill in; if you leave all the fields empty, you can view the entire database. Payment data is available within 30 days after the Board approves the current month’s payments.
- Elected officials include the President of the County Board and seventeen commissioners and eleven independently elected officials.
- The President presides over the County Board and is elected for 4-year terms.
- The Board of Commissioners is comprised of 17 legislators elected for 4-year terms.
- 11 Elected Officials independently oversee the functions and services of the government. The County Board has no control over these individuals.
Elected Officials Salaries
|Toni Preckwinkle||President of County Board||$170,000|
|John Daley||Commissioner, Chairman of Finance||$90,000|
|Jerry “Iceman” Butler||Commissioner||$85,000|
|Joseph Berrios||County Assessor||$125,000|
|Dorothy Brown||Clerk of Circuit Court||$105,000|
|Larry Rogers, Jr.||Accountant||$40,853|
|Anita Alvarez||State’s Attorney||$192,789|
|David Orr||County Clerk||$105,000|
|Maria Pappas||County Treasurer||$105,000|
Joe Berrios, the new County Assessor, has, despite criticism, hired his son, daughter and sister to work for him. He hired a woman he described as " very good friend" and her son despite laying off 53 other employees at the same time.
The deputy director of technology, Dudley Donelson, was indicted on charges he failed to disclose assets held after filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization back in 2003.
Cook County President, Toni Preckwinkle, has asked the police department to be cut by 16 percent. He's suggested that it's possible by cutting back some of the medical leave expenses, which currently is 20 percent of the department.
The police department is currently being investigated for being years behind schedule and millions over budget for their Project Shield project. Project Shield was supposed to be finished by 2008, with a projected cost of $31.5 million, but so far it has spent $45 million and had little supervision by the county.
Public employee salaries
- Main article: Cook County employee salaries
- Benefits information is listed generally and includes a contact number to call for additional information; However, no specific salary information is available.
- In March, 2011, the former Executive Director of a suburban waste agency allegedly stol e more than $900,000 in funds over a four-year period in addition to his $160,000 annual salary.
According to the county website Cook County employs over 22,000 people.  However, there is not an available breakdown of how many employees are employed by each department of county government.
There is not one direct link on the county website where salaries for elected officials can be found. However, by visiting the county Department of Budget and Management Services one can find the budget of various county departments for the previous year which includes some salary information. . Anyone interested in reading the salary information will have to scroll through pages of other financial information to find it.
Health care administrators received a large pay raise in 2011, the largest being $40,000. A number of the raises went to administrator's in the Oak Forest Hospital, which will be closed in May and replaced by a regional care clinic. Commissioner William Beavers, a South Side Democrat, has criticized the pay increases, calling the administrator's “pin-striped pimps.”</ref name=health>
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is recommending the board approve a $45,000 raise for one of her new hires and regular campaign contributor.
Main article: Illinois Public Pensions
According to the Cook County website, "Every County employee participates in our pension plan and you're vested after only ten years of employment. The County matches your contributions and with a minimum of ten years of service you can collect on your contribution as early as age 50. You can also elect to increase your pension benefit significantly by participating in our Deferred Compensation Program."
The Cook County website though, does not include information about the pension levels it offers to its employees and elected officials.
According to a report by the bond rating agency Fitch's, the Cook County pension plan was adequately funded at about 79 percent (including pension and retiree health care liabilities) in 2008. However, in 2009 the funding amount fell to 69 percent as a result of investment losses and recalibration of life expectancies. 
According to a report by the Kellogg School of Management, unfunded pension liabilities at county and municipal levels are at an all time high, totaling $574 billion. The report cites Chicago as one of six major cities that have current pension assets that can only pay for promised benefits through 2020. The report says that if Chicago leaders shut down all other spending, city leaders would need to allocate "about eight years of dedicated tax revenues to cover pension promises it has already made."  The Kellogg report says Cook County will not be solvent past 2025.
Illinois is facing a crisis with its publicly funded pensions. In 2010 state government was responsible for over $130 billion in pension payments, however they only had $46 billion set aside, which leaves an unfunded liability of about $85 billion.  Finding a way to fund that $85 billion will be the focus of the 2011 general assembly. The Pew Center for the States reported that as of 2008, Illinois is one of the worst states at contributing to its pension systems. State lawmakers will consider selling $4 billion of bonds to pay the state's annual payment on the five pension programs it runs.  In April, the state legislature created a two-tier system for all municipal and state employees—including teachers and state lawmakers—hired after Jan 1, 2011. Police and fire were included in an earlier draft but removed shortly before the vote. For the others, retirement was raised to 67. 
- Lobbyists earned nearly $1 million in first half of 2011.
- In this blog, posted on the Cook County website, the names of 62 elected officials and high-ranking officials were reported to have been lobbied more than 20 times, including phone calls, meeting requests, emails, letters, text messages, or at events.
Since January 2011, 178 active lobbyists earned $924,136 in Cook County, resulting in 632 lobbying contracts. Lobbyists are required to report their activity twice a year, in January and in July. Information is available online, including the name of the lobbyists or firm, what they are lobbying about and who they lobbied and how much was paid. Lobbying contracts may include phone calls, emails, letters, text messages or events.
Most Cook County officials received advocacy or political contribution funds totaling less than $100 in 2011. Officials receiving greater than $100 in one transaction is listed in the table below. Specific member information is available on Lobbyist Online.
|Jesus Garcia, Commissioner||Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council||Political Contribution||$400.00|
|Anita Alvarez, State’s Attorney||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$750.00|
|Elizabeth Gorman, Commissioner||Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council||Political Contribution||$500.00|
|Gregg Goslin, Commissioner||David Bonoma & Associates, LTD.||Travel||$253.00|
|Joan Murphy, Commissioner||David Bonoma & Associates, LTD||Travel||$253.00|
|Joan Murphy, Commissioner||Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council||Political Contribution||$500.00|
|Joan Murphy, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$150.00|
|Joan Murphy, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$750.00|
|Toni Preckwinkle, Board President||David Bonoma & Associates, LTD||Travel||$253.00|
|Toni Preckwinkle, Board President||Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council||Political Contribution||$500.00|
|Toni Preckwinkle, Board President||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$500.00|
|Toni Preckwinkle, Board President||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$750.00|
|Edwin Reyes, Commissioner||Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council||Political Contribution||$200.00|
|Timothy Schneider, Commissioner||David Bonoma & Associates, LTD||Travel||$253.00|
|Peter Silvestri, Commissioner||Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council||Political Contribution||$440.00|
|Peter Silvestri, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$150.00|
|Peter Silvestri, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$300.00|
|Peter Silvestri, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$300.00|
|Deborah Sims, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$500.00|
|Deborah Sims, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$200.00|
|Deborah Sims, Commissioner||Ungaretti & Harris LLP||Political Contribution||$200.00|
According to the blog, All-Circo, Inc. was paid $280,000 for contacting Cook County officials on behalf of it’s clients at least six times.
|$ lobbying total||$ Illinois||$ federal government||$ lobbying groups||# lobbying contracts||# lobbying groups|
Transparency and Public Records
- In the Transition Report published by Cook County, the government emphasizes the importance of transparency and accountability and promised to make it a focal point since December 2010. Since then, the County reports that in 2011, they have made strides towards accomplishing these tasks including, but not limited to:
- President Preckwinkle’s Public Calendar
- Implemented performance-based management and budgeting
- 2011 Cook County budget posted online
- Posted better version of county check register
- Posted follow-up to 100-day report online
- Broadcasts Cook County Board meetings online
- Implemented S.T.A.R., a performance management tool used to help county agencies set goals for efficiency and achieve them
Public Records Lawsuits
- In the last three years, “The City that Settles,” Chicago, has been sued 900 times, nearly every single day. In 2010 alone, the City spent $85 million to litigate cases. Prompted by the influx of litigation, the Chicago Police Department announced in 2009 that they will no longer simply settle cases; From 2009-2010, lawsuits filed against the CPD dropped 50 percent, reducing the City’s liability by $7 million.
- The American Tort Reform Association ranks Cook County, Illinois as the nation’s fifth-worst “Judicial Hellhole” due to the county’s notoriety for frivolous lawsuits and big plaintiff payouts.
- In 2010, a landmark Second Amendment decision was handed down by the SCOTUS in McDonald v. Chicago 561 U.S. holding that the Second Amendment is fully applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Office of Inspector General for City of Chicago issues press releases including information on most recent suits against City of Chicago.
Open Chicago Initiative & Transparency
- Inspector General announced “Open Chicago” in March 2011 to enhance transparency in Chicago and Cook County.
- The “Crooked Code” initiative helps investigate the performance of government employees to ensure total transparency and reduce corruption. Phase One of the program resulted in the arrest of five Chicago employees for federal bribery charges.
- In July 2011, the Department of Justice joined Illinois public universities in defense of a ruling issued by the Seventh Circuit court in Chicago holding that federal privacy laws do not prohibit the release of identifiable educational records about students and their families, a case that originated from a Chicago Tribune FOIA request demanding parents’ names and addresses of students enrolled at an Illinois public university.
- In April 2011, a reporter filed suit against Chicago, Mayor Daley and two FOIA officers when the Chicago Police Department rejected his legitimate request for information.
- In January 2011, the Better Government Association filed suit against the Chicago Police Department for their refusal to release FOIA requests relating to the size and cost of the police security detail for on Chicago Alderman, available to him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- The main revenue for Cook County comes from property taxes (23.6%), home rule taxes (28.2%), and sales tax (at 9.75%).
- Previously, the sales tax in Cook County was 10.25%, one of the highest rates in the United States. In July, 2010, the tax dropped 1.25%, reducing the costs of a $1,000 purchase by $5.
Unemployment rates in Cook County reached their peak in January 2010 at 11.8%. In May 2011, the unemployment rate was 10.2%. Unemployment numbers are not available on the county website.
- ↑ [http/::quickfacts.census.gov:qfd:states:17:17031.html U.S. Census Cook County, IL]
- ↑ Cook County Info
- ↑ Bureau of/Downloads/11 Citizens Summary Adopted.pdf Budget
- ↑ Minutes and Agendas
- ↑ Elected and Administrative Officials
- ↑ Zoning
- ↑ Permits
- ↑ Bureau of/Downloads/11 Citizens Summary Adopted.pdf Local tax information
- ↑ 2011 Contracts
- ↑ Comptroller - Annual Salaries
- ↑ Bureau of/Downloads/11 Citizens Summary Adopted.pdf 2011 Budget Amount
- ↑ 'Yahoo News'. Fitch Rates Cook County, September 9, 2010
- ↑ Open Illinois, Cook County Contracts under Investigation, July 6, 2010
- ↑ Federal Stimulus
- ↑ Stimulus Funds
- ↑ Cook County Check Register
- ↑ County Leadership
- ↑ Cook Salary Table
- ↑ Chicago Sun Times, Despite criticism, new assessor Berrios hires son, sister, Dec. 8, 2010
- ↑ 20.0 20.1 CLTV.com "Layoffs don't apply to Berrios's clan" Feb. 18, 2011
- ↑ Chicago Sun Times, Cook County deputy director of technology indicted on fraud charges, Oct. 22, 2010
- ↑ Daily Herald, Preckwinkle to Dart: Why is 20% of your staff on medical leave?, Jan. 28, 2011
- ↑ Chicago Sun Times, FBI looking at Cook County’s troubled Project Shield, Feb. 16, 2011
- ↑ Salary and Benefits
- ↑ $900,000 theft
- ↑ 'Cook County', County Employees
- ↑ 
- ↑ Cite error: Invalid
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- ↑ Chicago Sun Times, Preckwinkle plans $43,000 raise for campaign backer, Feb. 14, 2011
- ↑ Yahoo News, Fitch Rates Cook County, September 29, 2010
- ↑ 'Kellogg School of Management', Dire Outcomes Predicted for Municipal Pension Systems, October 12, 2010
- ↑ Illinois Issues, The Pension Chasm, November 15, 2010
- ↑ State House News, November 4, 2010
- ↑ 'Patch.com' Illinois Senate to Vote on Public Safety Pension Reforms Thursday Morning, Dec. 1, 2010
- ↑ Lobbyists Earning A Million
- ↑ Lobbying contracts
- ↑ Lobbyist report
- ↑ Elected officials lobbying
- ↑ Lobbyist earnings
- ↑ [due to the county’s notoriety for frivolous lawsuits and big plaintiff payouts City that Settles]
- ↑ [due to the county’s notoriety for frivolous lawsuits and big plaintiff payouts Judicial Hellhole]
- ↑ Landmark Second Amendment case against Chicago
- ↑ Inspector General Chicago
- ↑ Open Chicago
- ↑ Crooked Code
- ↑ Universities refuse FOIA
- ↑ FOIA suit
- ↑ BGA files FOIA suit against CPD
- ↑ Taxes
- ↑ Sales Tax Drops
- ↑ [file://localhost/Unemployment Rate/ Cook County, IL, available at/ http/::www.economagic.com:em-cgi:data.exe:blsla:laucn17031003 Cook County Unemployment]