When last we visited with Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins, she was explaining why she couldn’t possibly take the 10 furlough days she had voted to approve as part of the county’s budget for 2011.

You remember the furlough day concept, built into the bleeding red budget pushed through last year by Toni Preckwinkle, the still-stellar county board president? Intended to lessen layoffs, Preckwinkle had county employees and elected officials give up 10 days’ pay in an effort to save some $25 million. The employees didn’t have a choice in the matter, but through a foible of the state constitution, elected officials could opt out of the furlough. Initially, five of our 17 public servants on the county board made various rude noises about why they were above it all. But in the end, the Chicago News Cooperative reported Friday, all but two commissioners made their peace with the shared-sacrifice concept.

Of course, defiant to the end was our own Commissioner Collins.

“We buy coats and food for women who are getting out of prison with my money. I don’t apologize for not taking any furlough days, and I’m not going to take any to please anybody,” she told the reporter.

Where to start?

Since when is it “my money”? That’s where we’ll start. It isn’t your money, Commissioner. It is tax money. It doesn’t belong to you. Never did. You have been complicit through your years of service on the county board with overseeing one of the most bloated, ill-managed, least innovative government bodies ever. That is on you. It has always been about raising taxes. It has never been about an ambition to provide essential services — health care and the courts mostly — in a cost-efficient way that respects the poor schlubs out here writing the checks.

And honest to God, Ms. Collins, you are going to make me sound like a Republican, but why are you haphazardly buying coats and food for women coming out of prison? Having 17 different commissioners with pots of money they spend on pet projects, even if worthy, is the definition of waste posing as paternalism. There are already effective government programs which provide food to people in dire straits. There are charities that collect coats. And, yes, surely there are good people in need who struggle.

But I’m not turning to a single county commissioner with a slush fund to solve the problems of urban life. It is such a retro notion of government. I want a county commissioner who will align herself with Toni Preckwinkle and help her systematically transform county government.

When Preckwinkle asks why virtually every person in drug court is black and male and asks what are we going to do to solve that, I’d like my commissioner on board. When Preckwinkle calls out the juvenile detention system as a racist, failed anchor on young lives and pledges to empty it, I want my commissioner signing on.

Collins was quoted in the News Coop piece as saying more savings could have been found to make up for her nose-thumbing on furloughs by cutting salaries in Preckwinkle’s office.

Commissioner, Toni Preckwinkle’s office is the only part of county government which does not appear to be brain dead.

Get with the program or get out of the road.

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Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...

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