Cook County Commissioners face a day of marathon meetings culminating in a full Board of Commissioners meeting at 11:00 a.m. At that meeting, President Toni Preckwinkle is expected to introduce a number of gun-related measures, including a resolution supporting the American Medical Association’s designation of gun violence as a public health crisis, calling on the Illinois General Assembly to ban assault weapons, and calling for creation of a gun violence research consortium. Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia is also expected to introduce a measure establishing employer paid sick leave for residents of Cook County.

Fritchey Binding Ballot Referenda on Recorder Of Deeds Up in Finance Committee

A resolution calling for a ballot referendum proposing a merger of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and the Cook County Clerk’s office is the most politically rife item on today’s Finance Committee agenda. Unlike three referenda set to be chosen by the Chicago City Council, this item would be binding and historic: the last time voters had a chance to shrink Cook County government was in 1972, Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12), the sponsor says.

The question, in full: “Shall the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds be eliminated and all duties and responsibilities of the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds be transferred to, and assumed by, the Office of the Cook County Clerk by December 7, 2020.”

Fritchey amended the original ask, which had a drop dead date of December 1, 2018.

The current Recorder of Deeds is Karen Yarbrough. She lacked a Republican opponent in 2016, and would be up for re-election in 2020. But last August she told Aldertrack she planned to run for Secretary of State in 2018 after the long-serving Jesse White announced he wouldn’t run for re-election. “I absolutely do have plans to [run],” she said at the time. “I’m excited about the possibilities of running and hope that I can put together a team that can help me get there.”

The current County Clerk, David Orr, who has held the position since 1991, has been rumored to planning to retire at the end of the current term, which ends in 2018.

If approved, the measure would be sent on to Secretary White for him to prepare an official document outlining the law, which would be amended by the vote and eventually submitted to Attorney General Lisa Madigan for approval.

The measure is the second try from Commissioner Fritchey, who says the move will save more than $1 million annually, part of a redoubling of budget cutting efforts needed at the county level. Fritchey’s first attempt to merge the offices, in 2012, was thwarted by Finance Chair John Daley, who cast the deciding “no” vote.

“Even though the savings from this merger may seem small compared to the overall budget, savings are savings, and we owe it to taxpayers to save wherever, and whenever, we can,” he wrote in a Facebook note. “When she first ran for office, President Preckwinkle said she would ‘spearhead a reduction in Cook County’s current separately-elected offices,’” Fritchey continued. “There is no better, or other, opportunity for her to fulfill her stated goal than by supporting this resolution.”

Preckwinkle’s office has been on the record as supportive of the measure “in principle,” spokesman Frank Shuftan says. He told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month, “Consolidating the functions of the Recorder of Deeds office into the office of the County Clerk is something [President Preckwinkle] supported early in her first term, and she supports the concept now.”

The Recorder of Deeds’ fiscal year 2016 budget is $12.6 million. The Clerk’s is $35.2 million (the bulk coming from the county’s Election Fund). The last effort from commissioners to streamline Cook County’s government structure fell flat last month. Comm. Peter Silvestri (R-9) spearheaded a resolution asking leaders in Springfield to change the position of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk–currently held by Dorothy Brown–from an elected one to an appointed one, starting in 2020. The change had the support of CommSean Morrison (R-17) and Comm. Larry Suffredin (D-13), but faced vociferous opposition from Brown’s supporters. Silvestri withdrew the resolution, citing its “divisive nature” and how his item was “taken out of context.”

David Reifman Appointed To Head Cook County Land Bank Board of Directors

David Reifman, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and a former partner leading the land use practice at mega-law firm DLA Piper, is up for appointment to serve as director of the board of the Cook County Land Bank Authority. Reifman was recommended by Commissioner Bridget Gainer, the chair of the Authority, to fill the vacancy left by former commissioner of DPD’s Housing Bureau Lawrence Grisham. The President noted his experience and current position as head of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development.

The Authority’s mission is to promote redevelopment and reuse of vacant or otherwise unused properties throughout the county to stabilize neighborhoods and stimulate development. It was established in 2013.

The Authority’s Board of Directors includes Michael Jasso from the County’s Bureau of Economic Development; the mayors of Northlake, Prospect Heights, and Park Forest; representatives from Openlands and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; and development or real estate reps from Holland and Knight, Lee & Associates, Carter Ware, and Axia Development.

New Property Tax Incentive for Youth Employment

In addition to several routine property tax breaks, a new Class E property tax incentive for commercial and industrial properties is being pitched by Commissioner Luis Arroyo, Jr. The new break is “to encourage employment and increase employment opportunities” for youth between 16 and 24. Qualifying businesses would have to be located “in identified blighted areas” and “increase employment opportunities and the need for public assistance to accomplish modernization, rehabilitation and development.” Arroyo is the sole sponsor.

Qualifying properties would be subject to a 90% assessment for five years, and could renew for five year terms. The value of the employment hours for youth to businesses must be at least twice as big as the savings from the lowered assessment.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer and Commissioner Richard Boykin have introduced their own ordinances to try to incentivize businesses to hire more youth in the weeks and months following the issuance of a UIC Great Cities Institute study finding joblessness among young people in Chicago was “chronic, concentrated and comparatively worse than in Illinois, the U.S. and both New York City and Los Angeles.”

Gainer successfully increased bid incentives for contractors who do business with the county. Bidders get a 0.5% credit for future bids if teenagers work more than 10% of labor hours on a project worth at least $100,000 for the county, and 0.25% if teenagers work less than 10% of labor hours. Boykin proposed a $0.05 hike in the county gas tax to fund, in part, a youth jobs program beginning next summer, but held his ordinance in committee.

184 Page Report on M/WBE Compliance Finds County Slow To Pay Out, Discrimination Still An Issue

184 page disparity report on Minority and Women Owned Business compliance in the county is the first agenda item up on the Contract Compliance Committee meeting this morning. A team including the national group Colette Holt & Associates (CHA), and Chicago firms Sandi Llano & Associates and Trinal Inc., examined purchase order and contract data from the county and its Health and Hospital System from July 2009 through July 2014 to explore whether M/WBEs have equal access to County contracts.

Among other points, the study found “substantively significant” disparity ratios for Asians and Native Americans. The disparity ratio measures the participation of a group in the government’s contracting opportunities by dividing that group’s utilization by the availability of that group, and multiplying that result by 100 percent. A ratio less than 80 percent is on its face, discriminatory. White women-owned businesses were at 46.3%; Asians were at 42%, and Native Americans were at 0%. All minorities were underutilized relative to White men, the study found.

Prime vendor and subcontractors across the board also reported slow payment from the county as “a major problem”, authors said. “Small firms were often discouraged from working on County jobs. Information about payment the status of individual contracts was difficult to obtain. Even large firms were frustrated by the delays, and often pay M/WBEs even while awaiting payment from the County.”

Sexism and discrimination were still issues for many M/WBE business owners. Many said they experienced “discriminatory attitudes and negative assumptions about their competency, capacities and qualifications. They are often presumed to be less qualified and capable. Long established firms still had their capabilities and industry knowledge questioned.”

In response, Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Commissioner Robert Steele introduced an amendment to the county’s M/WBE ordinance adding language reflecting recommendations from CHA, which include amending race- and gender-neutral initiatives, including reducing barriers to prime contract awards to small firms; implementing narrowly tailored race- and gender-conscious measures like mentor-protege programs and compliance training; developing performance measures; and conducting regular program reviews every five to six years.

According to Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan, the amendment:  

  • Requires contracts to be assigned contract-specific goals using the most current data available.
  • Allows for M/WBE’s to continue counting toward the goal if a firm graduates from the program for exceeding size standard or personal net worth.
  • Extends from 1 year up to 5 years that a firm may be found ineligible for certification if the M/WBE is found to have submitted false, deceptive, fraudulent or inaccurate material information.
  • Creates a new section on outreach and training to the business community to assist in applying for certification, properly completing the utilization plan, including request for partial or full waiver.
  • Extends program sunset to June 30, 2021