It was almost better than The Hills. I can’t even remember why Lauren is so mad at Heidi anymore, but who cares when you’ve got The Surreal Life: Cook County.
In last night’s episode, Todd Stroger’s childhood friend and taxpayer-supported public relations chief Gene Mullins squared off against Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin on Chicago Tonight. The Better Government Association’s Jay Stewart played the role of “Voice of Reason” while Eddie Aruzza expertly moderated.
The story up to now: After excruciating budget showdown which resulted in a widely loathed sales tax increase, Stroger’s hinky spending continues, including plans to add a public relations consultant to the PR team that is already 15-people strong because, after all, the county’s woes are the media’s fault.
Here’s a rough look at the script, edited for clarity with occasional interjections shouted at the TV from Division Street. Imagine the voices getting louder as it goes.
MULLINS: To promote the activities we have and services we offer at the county hospitals . . . that people don’t know exist.
ARRUZA: What’s been done up to now? Why isn’t that good enough?
MULLINS: Of the 15 people referred to by the Sun-Times . . . only myself and the assistant director report to the president and talk to the media . . . the rest perform different tasks . . . cable employees, graphic designer . . . all are listed under PR, but they don’t all perform the duties of PR.
DIVISION STREET: Those are just budget titles.
ARRUZA: Why aren’t you reassigning jobs to utilize the budget better?
MULLINS: We have to bring in professionals to get the word out.
DIVISION STREET: It’s not like we can depend on the amateurs on our payroll.
STEWART: At this very moment the county board and President Stroger are about to cede control of the health system to an independent board. Why not let the new board call the shots? Let them decide if this is appropriate.
SUFFREDIN: We’re not an industry, we’re a government. What’s going on is, we’re featherbedding and putting out contracts that don’t provide essential services. If we don’t stabilize the Bureau of Health, we won’t have a Bureau of Health.
DIVISION STREET: But we’ll have plenty of people to get the word out about that.
STEWART: My concern is not really with the details of the [new independent] board’s work, it’s that it has a sunset provision after three years. What happens in 2011?
MULLINS: This is not a new idea. President Stroger introduced this almost eight months ago.
SUFFREDIN: He fought against this!
MULLINS: In the 2007 campaign he mentioned this. It was his idea.
SUFFREDIN: Then why did he resist it?
MULLINS: He didn’t resist it!
SUFFREDIN: He resisted it completely!
MULLINS: We didn’t have any money.
SUFFREDIN: President Stroger opposed my proposal all the way to the end.
MULLINS: It was his idea.
DIVISION STREET: Maybe that’s why he resisted it; even he knows his ideas are terrible.
SUFFREDIN: It was not his idea.
ARRUZA: I should point out that this is the first time you two have met . . . why not let the new board decide?
MULLINS: He won’t say hi in the hallway . . . Because this has been an idea months ago . . . if the president chooses to do so, he’s moving forward. It’s imperative.
STEWART: Let the board decide.
MULLINS: Go back to the $500 million deficit?
SUFFREDIN: There was no $500 million deficit. You make up numbers.
ARRUZA: Todd Stroger’s been talking about a structural deficit, possibly preparing for a tax increase, maybe that’s why ne needed a PR firm.
MULLINS: There’s no need for a tax increase. What Donna Dunnings was referring to was a Medicaid cut that we have to address in the next few years. I sent that speech to the press. Donna Dunnings suggested a tax increase nowhere in her speech.