Column: Preckwinkle mum on township supervisor salary, Dolton mayoral recall vote

If actions speak louder than words then Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s visit to Thornton Township Monday spoke volumes about her position on Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard.

Dolton voters will decide June 28 whether to recall the embattled Henyard as mayor. Henyard took office little more than a year ago and in March the hapless Thornton Township Board picked her to replace the late Frank Zuccarelli as township supervisor.

Henyard is on pace to make more than $277,000 this year as supervisor. She oversees about 170 employees and an annual budget of about $35 million. Her gross pay is a lot more than the $170,000 Preckwinkle will earn overseeing about 22,000 employees and an annual budget of about $8 billion.

Anyone can see that situation is way out of whack and that the way to remedy it is to reduce the township supervisor’s salary. The Cook County Board recently voted to increase the president’s annual salary to $187,000 with 3% automatic annual raises.

I followed Preckwinkle out of a town hall that was cut short by severe weather warnings. She thanked me for a complimentary column I wrote about her town hall earlier this month in Bloom Township. My praise for her then should make my criticism of her now all the more valid.

As we exited the South Holland Community Center, I asked her opinion about Henyard’s pay exceeding hers by more than $100,000 per year. Preckwinkle is chief executive of one of the nation’s largest counties and powerful chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

“No comment,” Preckwinkle said.

She dodged the question, but her public appearance alongside Henyard two weeks before a recall election implied support. I was disappointed Preckwinkle skipped a chance to make a statement about reducing waste and excessive payrolls in government.

A resident questions Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Monday during a town hall at the South Holland Community Center. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

Preckwinkle was similarly mum when I asked her opinion about the referendum to recall Henyard as mayor. Many Dolton residents and trustees, however, have strong opinions about Henyard.

They’ll tell you they’re voting “yes” on two recall questions because of Henyard’s uncompromising management style. Good government means transparency and accountability, and both have been seriously lacking in Dolton village government since Henyard booted Riley Rogers from the mayor’s office last year.

Dolton citizens will tell you about sudden hikes in their water bills, seemingly without explanation. They’ll say they’re concerned about Henyard’s second-chance program that gave village jobs to a registered child sex offender and other felons.

Dolton trustees say it is their duty to manage spending and approve purchases. They say Henyard has spent money without authorization and hired people without conducting background checks as required by village ordinance.

Trustees have talked publicly about their lawsuits against Henyard. Five trustees and the village clerk claimed in a suit that Henyard directed department heads to ignore requests for documents through the Freedom of Information Act. I requested Dolton’s payroll records March 16 and have yet to receive any documents.

This is unacceptable defiance of state law, and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx or Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul ought to do something about it. Why does it seem like federal authorities are the only law enforcement officials who care about corruption in Illinois?

Dolton residents and trustees say they simply want accountability for the public funds that Henyard appears to spend without authorization. During the most recent village board meeting, Trustee Kiana Belcher held up a copy of a canceled check for $561,000 that she said Henyard signed by herself. Belcher cited a village ordinance that requires two signatures from the mayor and village clerk on checks.

“Y’all wonder why we’re worried about the money, this is why we’re worried about the money,” Belcher said. “That means money is being spent and we don’t find out until after the check is cashed.”

I’m disappointed with Preckwinkle because when she sat next to Henyard at the town hall, she sent a message that everything was fine. The Dolton mayor’s disregard for transparency and accountability were OK in her book, Preckwinkle seemed to say.

People gather Monday at the South Holland Community Center for a town hall meeting about Cook County government. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

Promotional materials said Henyard and South Holland Mayor Don De Graff hosted Monday’s town hall.

“I’m so proud to stand here today with one of the strongest women of our generation and the leader of Cook County, President Toni Preckwinkle,” Henyard told the audience.

Henyard said Preckwinkle was her mentor. Henyard tends to sound like she deserves personal credit for spending taxpayer money.

Preckwinkle’s tour of town halls to discuss county programs is conveniently timed to maximize use of taxpayer resources in the days leading up to the June 28 primary. Former Cook County Board member Richard Boykin is challenging Preckwinkle for the Democratic nomination.

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Nearly 100 people attended Monday’s town hall. County administrators talked about economic development, transportation, housing and other concerns.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be informed,” De Graff said.

Soon after Henyard was appointed supervisor in March, I wrote that she should resign her position as Dolton mayor. She got the big payday as township supervisor. Keeping the mayor’s job seemed greedy, especially when she defied the village board’s efforts to hold her accountable at every turn.

State law prohibits units of government from changing compensation for elected officials until a current term ends. Zuccarelli’s term ends in 2025, and township taxpayers are due to pay Henyard more than $1 million by then.

Since Preckwinkle wouldn’t say it, I will. There is no need for the Thornton Township Board to wait until its last meeting before the 2025 election to vote on a new compensation package for the supervisor. Capping the supervisor’s gross pay and expenses at $175,000 a year seems like a reasonable start.

Ted Slowik is a columnist at the Daily Southtown.

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