By Chinta Strausberg
A resolution being introduced Wednesday by Republican Cook County Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri petitioning the General Assembly and the governor to change the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court position from an elected position to an appointed one is already hitting a brick wall in Springfield.
The resolution seeks to have the president of the Cook County Board and the Commissioners appoint and confirm the Clerk of the Circuit Court rather than determined by the will of the County voters.
The Cook County Board’s resolution comes months after a major scandal involving a 400-day delay in indicting officer Jason Van Dyke who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and similar police shootings. The lack of transparency led to protests and a huge voter turnout resulting in the defeat of Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez by Kim Foxx, largely because of the “Black Lives Matter” and youth movements.
Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st) and Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3rd) strongly objected to the resolution both saying the choice of a Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court should be left up to the voters and not politicians.
Rev. Janette Wilson, who heads the Rainbow PUSH Excel, said “Elected officials should seek to expand the involvement of citizenry not enact legislation that limits voting.
“There is no justification for moving from an elected position than to take power from the people and isolate in the hands of a select few who do have the best interest of the people in mind,” said Wilson.
With the Cook County Democratic party unable to defeat Brown at the ballot box in the last election, the County board has come up with another scheme to get rid of Brown, but this time legislatively and they are turning to the state and the governor for help in making their desires a reality.
But the resolution will be fought in Springfield. Senator Hunter said, “That’s a key, essential position and I think the people should elect the position and not have a politician make that choice.”
Hunter said if Brown’s position is appointed, “then all of them should be appointed. I cannot support that,” said Hunter. “If they are going to do that, then make all of their positions appointed ones. Why discriminate against one position. Let the people decide.”
Agreeing is Flowers who said, “I don’t know why that is necessary. I won’t be supporting that. The Lt. Governors office has nothing designated to do. The clerk’s office has lots of jobs and they are the record keeper and somebody has to be held accountable. That is something that you cannot appoint anyone to.
“Let the people decide whether he or she is doing a good job with the work that is required of that office unlike the Lt. Governor’s office. They are waiting on the governor to pass away. The clerk’s office has something to do…,” said Flowers listing a bevy of duties of Brown’s office.
”I would not want an appointed person to do that. I want someone who would be held accountable to people, not accountable to other elected officials,” said Flowers.
In response to Silvestri’s proposal, Clerk Brown issued the following statement: “The Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County needs to continue to be elected and not appointed because it must be accountable to, and controlled by the people, not just 17 people, the County Board of Commissioners, upon recommendation by the Judiciary.
“Making the Clerk of Court appointed by the County Board, upon recommendation by the judiciary, would essentially disenfranchise voters from being able to elect the person that controls the court records that seriously affect their freedom, their finances, their lives and the lives of their families,” she stated.
“Tying the appointment of the Clerk of the Court to an appointment by the Judiciary, with a confirmation of appointment by the County Board, would put the Judiciary in a position to control how the Clerk maintains the records, opening them up to manipulation, essentially the fox watching the hen house effect.”
The problem began when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the ward committeemen turned on Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, who was forced to turn over her cell phone to an FBI agent, by rescinding their endorsement of her re-election bid. Instead, they gave their political blessings to Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) whom Brown later defeated.
Tensions heightened between Preckwinkle, Brown and the Cook County Democratic Party when Brown asked for a raise citing her 9.4 times more employees and 6.5 larger workload than other Clerks of the Circuit Court and public safety officers.
Brown laid out her case citing her salary at $105,000 with 1,686.8 employees, Assessor’s $125,000 with 342.0 employees, County Clerk, 105,000with 275.2, the County Clerk, $105,000 with 275.0 workers; the Treasurer, $105,000 with 89.0 and the Recorder of Deeds, $105,000 with 171.0 employees.
“There is no logical explanation for the salary inequity of the Clerk of the Court, who is responsible for managing such a large number of employees compared to the other countywide elected officials,” wrote Brown.
Preckwinkle’s response to Brown’s request for a raise was a definite “No,” and just a few days later, Silvestri introduces his resolution asking the state and the governor to change Brown’s position from an elected to an appointed position.
Silvestri’s resolution, which is non-binding, says the Clerk of the Circuit Court is part of the judicial branch of state government and that the Clerk’s office is “funded solely by the taxpayers of the County of Cook…is the official record keeper of all judicial matters in the court system and is a ministerial, administrative position whose functions involve applying procedures proscribed by law and does not involve discretionary policy making …”
It went on to say that under Article VI, Section 18, the Illinois Constitution allows the state Supreme Court and appellate court judges to appoint, rather than elect, a court clerk and other non-judicial officers of the circuit courts… An appointed Circuit Court Clerk, would allow for a consolidation of functions that overlap with those of other county offices and would help make a complex office more user-friendly…and it would give opportunities for significant cost savings to taxpayers include reducing the top-heavy structure of the elected office, reducing duplication of services and achieving economies of scale… and the administration of judicial record keeping should be from political influences and concerns.” Brown said, “This sounds like malarkey…which is speech or writing designed to mislead.”
The president and Cook County Board of commissioners are asking the Illinois General Assembly and the governor to “revise the position of Cook County Circuit Clerk from elected at large throughout Cook County to a position appointed as an administrator by the judiciary with the advice and consent of the president and Cook County Board of commissioners beginning at the end of the upcoming term on December 1, 2020.
Those wishing to testify for or against this resolution must fill out a speaker’s request 24-hours before the meeting begins. Here is the link to register your name: http://legacy.cookcountyil.gov/secretary/Public%20Testimony%20Rules%20and%20Policies%20Page.html