2012 County Leader of the Year: Getting down to business
Public safety and health care next
Two prime functions — public safety and health care — are Preckwinkle’s primary focus of future reform efforts. “There is still a lot of work to do,” she agrees, readily admitting that she plans to run for re-election to a second term.
Preckwinkle has harsh words for the county’s jail system. Currently, 70 percent of its 8,500 to 9,500 daily population consists of inmates awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses, such as drug use, shoplifting and prostitution. She points out that the county is spending almost $150 per day to jail the inmates but does not offer any treatment for substance abuse. “This is terribly wrong, and we have a duty to do something about it,” she says.
As part of the change, the county is moving to increase the number of detainees on electronic monitoring, which costs about one-third as much as keeping a person locked up, through more collaboration between the various departments involved in the public safety system. In addition, the budget includes about $1 million in funds for job training and other programs for the alleged offenders. “Drug treatment, employment, mental health, anything we do is less expensive than to jail them, where there is no success,” she says.
The county’s health care system, where 58 percent of those treated do not have insurance or do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, is a second major area where Preckwinkle sees significant room for reform. “People have always operated in their own silos,” she says about county divisions. “We need to try to work together to make sure that the silos work cooperatively. We need to set goals and milestones.”
She would like the federal government to grant the county more dollars immediately, so that it can implement the new federal health care provisions that do not take effect until 2014. “It would help us in the strengthening and sustaining of the public health system,” she says.
In addition to the budgetary changes, Preckwinkle also has instituted management systems to hold accountable all county agencies, bureaus and departments. The Set Targets, Achieve Results (STAR) program establishes performance measures and goals and makes public quarterly reports of the county’s progress toward its objectives. In addition to greater public scrutiny, the STAR program has the added benefit of driving the county toward a similar set of achievements.
Preckwinkle credits a great deal of her initial success to her staff, and Msall notes that she has had success in attracting talented professionals to work in the county. “I’ve been really blessed,” she says. “Good people were not working for the county. They were looking to the city or the state. I was able to get good people to come and work for the county.”
She also makes an effort to open up the government to as many people as possible. “I try to talk to as many people as I can,” she says. “It’s important not to be isolated, to reach out to customers, and I’ve been all over the county the last year and one-half. Some people have said they had not seen the president in the suburbs. I want to be a president for the entire county.”
Robert Barkin is a Bethesda, Md.-based freelance writer.