At a special work session Tuesday, Cook County Commissioners began discussing the creation of a county administrator position. The board is looking at a full plate of projects that they fear could push them far beyond their expertise and at a level of detail usually not associated with their role as policy makers.
This was the first work session devoted to the subject, but timing may be a ways off, according to Commissioner Jan Hall. She said the county can’t afford to hire an administrator at this time. “But down the road we are going to have to make decisions on ways the county can go on a manager position.”
Hall said that the action the board took earlier in the day was a good start dealing with one project using the new 1% sales tax that goes into effect on April1. In the morning the board appointed Commissioner Bob Fenwick to spearhead their involvement in the new Community Center/Pool project, working with the Center’s board of trustees.
Fenwick said their move was the right one to handle the 1%, but in the on-going scheme of things, “for us to not look at some sort of county administrator structural framework would be a mistake.” Fenwick added the board needs to involve the staff and the public in their discussions.
Some of their constituents have told Commissioners they felt hiring an administrator would be too expensive. Some said they elected them to deal with county decision making at all levels. Commissioner Fritz Sobanja said there was more to being a commissioner than meets the eye and he was afraid people thought being a board member was attending three meetings a month. Hall said commissioners are more or less mandated to serve on hundreds of boards, panels and commissions.
She added, “We all know that if we don’t attend those meetings it affects all of our people in the county in every way – their jobs, their homes, the entire community.”
Fenwick said the board’s number one job is dealing with projects covered by the 1% sales tax, but there are several impending and important issues on the horizon, especially dealing with the state’s push to redesign the role of counties.
“County collaboration,” he said, “beyond just the social services design is going to be a big issue. In everything we do someone is going to bring up that counties should work together. We need to be in on the ground floor of those discussions.” Fenwick added a litany of pending activities and projects that face all counties including Cook – communications, public safety, human resources issues within the county, highway department bonding, and much more.
Commissioners agreed a good first step would be to contract with a facilitator who would meet first with county department heads to understand their concerns, and then work with the board to explore the various forms an administrator position could take. In the end the commissioners agreed that it’s the county board’s job to make policy, an administrator would be the person to implement those decisions. As Commissioner Hall put it -- that would be the go-to person to get the job done.