Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, seen here winning the March 2016 Democratic primary, ran into trouble at a County Board meeting March 22, 2017, over a proposed contract.
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Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s latest effort to upgrade her office’s out-of-date computer system stalled Wednesday after one County Board commissioner accused her office of “a number of potential half-truths.”
Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, urged his colleagues to delay consideration of a $36.5 million contract to upgrade to the electronic case-management system. In doing so, he referred to a PowerPoint presentation from Brown’s office backing the proposed four-year contract with Plano, Texas-based Tyler Technologies.
“I find this report, that PowerPoint that’s up there, to be very misleading and having a number of potential half-truths in it,” Suffredin said. “This is a project of the clerk of the Circuit Court’s office — an office whose reputation is not at the highest level right now.”
Suffredin later said he was referring to both the U.S. attorney’s investigation of Brown’s office and previous electronic case-management contracts he said did not work out well.
A former employee of Brown’s office last month was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to lying to a federal grand jury when he denied he’d had any contact with Brown. Federal authorities accused the employee of paying a $15,000 bribe to get a job in Brown’s office.
Prosecutors had sought 15 months in prison for the employee, arguing that his dishonesty "went to the very heart" of a wider probe of allegations that bribes were being paid for jobs and promotions in Brown’s office. Brown has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has not been charged.
After Suffredin called for a “full vetting” by all board members, the county’s Technology and Innovation Committee didn’t take an expected vote. Instead, it sent the proposed contract to the Finance Committee — which includes all 17 commissioners — for further debate at an April 12 meeting.
Jalyne Strong, a spokeswoman for Brown, did not address Suffredin’s comments about “half-truths” and the “reputation” of the Circuit Court clerk’s office. But she did say the proposed case-management contract resulted from a competitive bidding process. “It’s a technology whose time has obviously come, in order to continue the modernization of the Circuit Court system,” Strong said.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle later expressed support for the contract, noting it was evaluated and negotiated by a team that included her administration, the chief judge’s office, the state’s attorney’s office and the county Bureau of Technology.
“A new court-management system is a major step in our efforts to decommission our mainframes,” Preckwinkle said. “We’re working to address concerns about user error, and we hope that we can bring a program that’s successful in hundreds of other jurisdictions across the country here to Cook County.” (Hal Dardick)
What’s on tap
*Mayor Rahm Emanuel has no public events.
*Gov. Bruce Rauner’s schedule was not available.
*Four city committees are set to meet. The Transportation Committee could move to give an honorary street sign to Officer Michael Flisk, who was killed in the line of duty, and another for Steve Lombardo, the founder of Gibsons. At Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, an ordinance tweaking implementation of higher parking meter prices near Wrigley Field during games and events is on the agenda.
*Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation, will give a lunchtime talk to the City Club of Chicago.
*Illinois first lady Diana Rauner will attend a conference on women’s health in Springfield.
*Democrats including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and candidates for governor state Sen. Daniel Biss and Ald. Ameya Pawar will have a "Don’t Slay the ACA" news conference. It was timed to a planned Chicago fundraiser for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan that has since been delayed. (See "From the notebook" below.)
From the notebook
*Wait until Friday: A Chicago fundraiser for Speaker Ryan that had been planned for Thursday will now be held Friday because of the scheduled House vote on plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
The downtown fundraiser, including a roundtable, a VIP photo opportunity, general reception and private dinner has varying price levels from $1,000 to attend to contributing or raising $50,000 to serve as a co-chair.
At the top level, a co-chair gets special “Team Ryan” membership benefits including three retreats, recognition on event materials and two seats at a private dinner with Ryan. A $25,000 “vice chair” gets one Ryan retreat and two seats at dinner.
Among the co-chairs are Chicago businessman Rod Gidwitz, billionaire hedge fund founder Ken Griffin, industrialist Craig Duchossois and investor Muneer Satter.
Team Ryan is a joint fundraising committee that includes Ryan for Congress as well as a political action committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. (Rick Pearson)
*Proposed nursing home rules inch forward: House lawmakers gave initial approval to legislation that would increase penalties for nursing homes and long-term care facilities that fail to meet staffing requirements and prevent patients from being “dumped” at hospitals.
However, sponsors say the proposal is likely to go through several more changes before it’d go to the floor for a full vote, as opponents contend it paints all facilities with a broad brush and the burden of more regulations could cause some homes in rural areas to close.
The effort aims to tighten rules established in 2010 following a Chicago Tribune investigation that exposed chronic violence in some nursing homes. Among other provisions, that law required facilities to raise nursing staff levels and established rules for discharging residents.
Supporters of the new proposal say those fines aren’t tough enough. They want to raise the maximum $1,100 fine for understaffing to double what it would cost to hire the needed people. The idea is that facilities that don’t fill positions would end up doling out as much money as if they had.
Additionally, the measure would require nursing homes to notify the state’s long-term care ombudsman of involuntary patient discharges. The provision is intended to prevent what is known as “dumping,” where patients are transferred to hospitals and not allowed to return to the facility, pushing some into homeless shelters or homes of family members not equipped to care for them.
“This is designed to protect our most vulnerable,” said sponsoring Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside.
Groups that represent nursing homes, though, were among the opponents that said the regulations are too stringent, particularly in the face of new federal rules.
“Often, while legislation is well-intended, it has a tendency to paint the entire state with the same paint brush,” said Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb. “In our rural area, we struggle on a regular basis to provide homes for our elderly. … We just don’t have enough facilities and we also don’t have enough staff available.
“So what we are doing here is putting another layer on these folks,” Hammond said. “Many of our rural facilities will close as a result.”
While the measure cleared a House committee 11-1, Welch said he would keep working with opponents toward a consensus. (Monique Garcia)
*Some court fees going down? An effort to reduce some court fees that advocates say hurt low-income Illinoisans cleared its first hurdle Wednesday.
The bill in Springfield also would create a waiver system for people who can’t afford the fees and standardize what advocates say is a patchwork system.
The proposal is a response to findings by a bipartisan task force that pointed to a wide variation in fees for the same crimes in different Illinois counties. It also said growing fees put more pressure on low-income residents.
A House committee approved the proposal Wednesday. But its sponsors said there’s more work to be done to address concerns about counties losing the fee money.
“The intent is not in any way to harm public safety, fire safety or the operation of the courts,” said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook.
Kelly Smeltzer, general counsel for the Cook County Circuit Court clerk, said Cook County could lose more than $30 million under the proposed changes. Smeltzer said this would cause a reduction in services.
Maria Moon, a campaign coordinator for Cabrini Green Legal Aid, said she’s not against supporting government services but contends the current system is hurting low-income residents.
“It causes people to stay impoverished," Moon said. (Haley BeMiller)
What we’re writing
*Most Illinois House Republicans follow party on health care.
*Some younger grocery store cashiers could get to sell alcohol under new city plan.
*Chicago Public Schools chief fires back at Gov. Rauner.
*Illinois lawmakers propose legalizing recreational marijuana.
*Obamacare replacement bill could harm disabled Illinoisans, advocates say.
*Willie Wilson aims to bail out homeowners.
*Chicago lawyer fights Army veteran’s deportation order.
What we’re reading
*Sears acknowledges ‘substantial doubt’ about company’s future; stock plummets Wednesday.
*Sports museum in Chicago is proposed by ex-Adler, Shedd executives.
*Sports Illustrated profiles Kris Bryant, assures readers his story is actually true.
Follow the money
*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.
*The White House tries to distance Trump from Manafort after the AP report about Russian ties.
*A planned health care vote for Thursday might be short on Republican votes.
*Gorsuch to Democrats: No return to ‘horse and buggy’ era.
*A deep dive on the size of the U.S. military compared with other countries.
*At least 4 dead in vehicle, knife attack near British Parliament.