THE BLOG

Toni Preckwinkle May Have the Antidote to the Tea Party

12/08/2010 06:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Most County departments run nearly independent back-office functions, which in many cases are redundant. For example, procurement and information technology are handled separately by multiple elected officials. This duplication wastes taxpayer dollars," said newly-minted Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at her swearing-in ceremony on Monday

Preckwinkle's inaugural rhetoric mostly traveled a wonkish path of "performance targets," "personnel and compensation audits" and "centralizing administrative functions," rhetoric that lacked the crackling fireworks that could set pulses galloping or mouths foaming.

Thank goodness.

Throughout the 2010 general election voters were besieged by the over-caffeinated carnival barkers in the Tea Party movement, bug-eyed candidates who relentlessly screeched their commitment to "freedom," "liberty" and the "Constitution"--but to little else.

How many Tea Party candidates unleashed flights of rhetoric on government back-office functions or anything of practical value?

By my count, zero.

Preckwinkle stomped former GOP State Senator Roger Keats 58.8% to 37.2% in November principally by talking not only about duplicative, wasteful back-office operations but also by an intelligent, planned reduction of taxes--another Tea Party bête-noire--specifically pledging to abolish the remainder of the despised one-cent sales tax hike muscled in by her hapless predecessor, Todd Stroger.

In her inaugural address, Preckwinkle announced a concrete time-line to phase out the tax.

"Today, I pledge that the FY 2011 budget will include a commitment to reduce the sales tax by 0.25% in fiscal year 2012 and 0.25% in fiscal year 2013," said Preckwinkle. Her multi-fiscal year tax reduction pledge may have lacked the misty-eyed oomph of bellowing "liberty" into the cold, thin air, but it will help fill many empty pockets with some cold, hard cash.

Rolling back the Cook County sales tax does come at a price: a $487 million deficit in the County's $3.799 billion budget this year.

However, Preckwinkle, who seems to have a comprehensive plan for everything that is not nailed down, has a plan for the deficit: a 21% cut to this year's budget. That's it. No new taxes. No borrowing. No bond debt financing. No fire sales of county property.

To achieve the operational efficiencies upon which many budget savings will depend, Preckwinkle plans to move Cook County government from a culture of corruption to a "culture of performance management" and hire a performance czar to enforce the new culture.

"I will appoint a Chief Performance Officer, who will set tough performance targets and hold employees responsible for progress," said Preckwinkle.

Management consultant Todd Connor, who has worked for national management specialist Booz Allen Hamilton and who has ladled out management advice to organizations such as NASA and its leadership in Houston and to Fortune 500 Aon and its president in Chicago, commented on Preckwinkle's performance management focus, saying:

"It's spot on. President Preckwinkle has been eager to engage the expertise of the private sector and strong leaders like the Civic Consulting Alliance to bring the best practices into Cook County Government. The Chief Performance Officer sets a tone for management professionalism and performance expectation."

The key to Preckwinkle's success in advancing her "culture of performance management" will be installing a cadre of professionals to implement it, according to Connor.

"It's all about execution," said Connor. "President Preckwinkle has the right plan, the right heart, and now it's just executing with the right team."

And Connor gives high marks to Kurt Summers, who Preckwinkle tapped to be her chief of staff, and who served as the chief of staff for the Chicago's 2016 Olympics committee.

"He's a brilliant choice," said Connor.

Preckwinkle's tax reducing, budget-cutting, and waste-eliminating agenda steals the thunder of the Tea Party without its thunderous, white noise. Instead, the new County Board President aims to deliver the goods with intelligent, informed, and reasoned plans administered by experienced professionals, wrapped in real-world rhetoric.

It will be music to voters' weary and battered ears.