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More Transparency in the Stroger Administration?

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jul 8, 2008 7:26PM

Hardly. In an effort to rein in the negative press coverage the county board president is routinely bombarded with, Todd Stroger is forbidding department heads from speaking to the media without his spokesman present. As recently as last month, county budget director Jarese Wilson refused to discuss why her department hadn't produced a finished 2008 budget halfway into the budget year. And a receptionist for Rupert Graham, the head of the highway department, refused to let a reporter ask him how much salt the highway department had loaned to the north and northwest suburbs during the past winter, referring the question to spokesman Eugene Mullins.

2008_7_cook_county.jpgAlthough this policy isn't new, Stroger is pushing it again, after a storm of bad publicity surrounding the recent county-wide sales tax hike. And the renewed calls for media silence come at a time Mullins himself has complained that Stroger can't get his message out because of media bias. Occasional Stroger critic Mike Quiqley says that an outright clampdown on talking to the media makes little sense. "If you put people you trust—competent people—in place, you should trust them to talk to the press, because not everything can go through one person," Quigley told the Daily Herald. "It's just foolhardy to try and control it in this vein. It's sort of a variation of their bunker mentality," he said. In fact, there seems to be some confusion among Stroger's department heads as to how the policy works. Chris Geovanis, another county spokesman, told the Herald that "it's not a question of a standing policy that press calls must be cleared through Gene Mullins.... It's rather the request that ... managers make sure this office is informed and given an opportunity to collaborate. That said, we know we need to do a better job in responding to press calls and requests, and we're committed to doing that."