Sean Morrison’s take on issues facing Cook County residents

What do you consider to be the major issue(s) facing Cook County?

Fiscally speaking, legacy debt and crushing pension liabilities are the two major issues facing Cook County government.

What will your number one priority be, if you are elected?

My number one priority is for Cook County to develop and implement a fiscal course that is based on responsible budgeting and sensible revenue policies. In 2017, we laid positive groundwork for achieving this by repealing the awful Soda Tax and by cutting $200 Million from the 2018 Budget without new revenue. According to our budget office, the 2018 Budget will allow the county to finish in the black, and Cook County recently received improved bond ratings as a direct result of those two positive fiscal steps taken by the board last year. This is the fiscal course Cook County must continue to chart.

The days of bloated budgets and consistently raising taxes need to be days of the past. We're spending taxpayers' money and we need to treat it with respect so every budget decision should be a tough decision. That's why I recently co- sponsored an ordinance amendment that calls for a two-thirds super majority vote to pass any new tax or tax increase. This will ensure that any new tax proposal shall meet the highest threshold of consensus by the county board. Taxpayers deserve nothing less.

By charting a strong fiscal course for Cook County government it will provide the needed confidence by the business community to invest in Cook County. Ultimately, our success is only as strong as our local economy so economic investment and job creation are the ultimate goals. I want to see our local economy grow, thrive and successfully compete with our neighbors. That's why a fiscal course for Cook County government based on responsible budgeting and sensible revenue policies are so important.

County Board Candidates Only. Cook County is facing a $82 million budget shortfall. What options should the County pursue to balance the budget.

Reduce the size of Cook County government Cutting spending

What avenues do you see to increasing prosperity in Cook County?

Fighting against regressive ordinances that have a negative impact on suburban Cook County businesses. Ordinances who's burdensome fiscal impact cause small businesses to close and lend themselves to less overall employment. This is especially true of non-skilled labor. The Soda Tax is a prime example of a regressive tax ordinance that pushed customers to change their shopping habit to businesses outside of Cook County.

County Board Candidates Only. Please elaborate on your answer above. What options should the County pursue to balance the budget?

A renewed commitment to technology integration which can lower the Full Time Employee counts in the Clerk, Recorder and Circuit Clerk offices. Cook County has spent over $100 Million in technology to all those offices and departments to better fully integrate. We can perform clerical functions more precisely, more rapidly and with less government employees.

If elected, what will you do to support local farmers, including urban farmers and community gardeners?

I will continue to be a consistent and reliable advocate for legislative initiatives vital to the Cook County farming community. I will remain committed to supporting only those initiatives that will have a positive impact on the growth and sustainability for Cook County farmers. I will also continue to support and foster a cooperative working relationship between the FPDCC and the farming community. I appreciate the recognition as a "Friend" by the CCFB for my supporting efforts over the past three years.

Please, briefly describe your background and qualifications for the office you are seeking?

25 years self-employed and small business owner. Founder and CEO of Morrison Security, Corp. which is now located in three states (Illinois, Nevada & Florida). I've been an active entrepreneur having started and sold 8 companies as well as an investor in several businesses.

I have been active in the Republican Party for the past 15 years and currently serve as the Chairman for the Cook County Republican Party, Palos Township Republican Committeeman and Republican State Central Committeeman for the 3rd Congressional District.

Co-founded and funded Operation Restoring Innocence, a non-profit organization that rescues and recovers exploited and missing children from gangs and human traffickers reuniting them with their families and loved ones. As a result of the extraordinary efforts by Operation Restoring Innocence, more than 150 children have been found and rescued.

I have served as Cook County Commissioner for the suburban 17th District since 2015. My most significant accomplishment, to date, has been as the Chief Sponsor and author of the ordinance that successfully repealed the Cook County 'Soda Tax'.

Sun Times Questionaire

Cook County has cut its spending and probably will pass a budget that includes no new revenues. Given the county government's resources and responsibilities, what else would you do to cut or to generate sustainable revenues? How much money would that save or generate? Are you willing to vote for new taxes or fees? Please be specific.

Preparations for the 2019 budget are underway and I’d like to see the county board continue the positive fiscal course that we established for 2018.  We successfully repealed the Soda Tax and cut $200 Million from the 2018 budget. According to our budget office, the 2018 budget will allow the county to finish in the black, and Cook County recently received improved bond ratings which occurred as a direct result of those two positive fiscal steps taken by the board last year.  With an $82 million budget shortfall projected for 2019, I will continue to encourage the President and the budget office to present to the commissioners a budget that cuts $82 million for year 2019. I’m committed to cutting $82 million to balance the budget rather than raising taxes. I’m opposed to any new taxes and I will advocate for budget reforms that are applied and shared across the board in the 2019 Budget.

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System lost out on some $165 million in revenue over three years because of lax clerical procedures and errors, according to report last spring by the county inspector general. What would you do to end this kind of waste?

The OIG estimate is $174,800,000, For 2016 and the first two quarters of 2017. I questioned the CCHHS senior leadership regarding the very topic of revenue and Medicaid coding, several months prior to this investigation and was told there were no issues. I would privatize that function.  In some instances, privatization should be aggressive.  The county lost at minimum approximately $165 million in “collectable revenue” from 2016 through the first two quarters of 2017, from patients at the Cook County Hospital System simply because employees, after four years of training, could not or would not follow the basic procedures needed to bill insurance companies or government agencies for reimbursement.  Employees that are paid a few million dollars collectively lost the equivalent of 50 times their pay and benefits.  That is the prime example of people whose jobs should be privatized.  They can apply to the private company that is contracted to perform their former jobs with the understanding that if they are not qualified or perform inadequately, they will be and should be fired.  It doesn’t take four years to teach or learn how to perform a simple administrative procedure properly.  

What should the County Board’s role be in assisting economically depressed areas in the south suburbs? Should the county sheriff take over policing responsibilities in more suburbs that are struggling to maintain police protection?

Many of the economic development tools created by the state legislature, like Enterprise Zones and Tax Increment Finance districts, are available to municipalities to use and many have done so successfully.  At this time, the county is broke, the state is broke and the current Federal government is unlikely to provide any special assistance to south suburban Cook County.  I think the best thing for some financially failing suburban municipalities is to voluntarily place themselves, with the assistance of the State of Illinois, under the authority of a trustee/receiver who will help reorganize their finances.  In addition, some towns should consider municipal consolidation If municipal officials show no real effort or progress they can point to in re-organizing their finances. Especially in those communities where there has been apparentnegligent or criminal management of their local governments. Under these conditions, many of these communities will likely find it exceedingly difficult to attract new businesses interested in relocating and developing business there, because they cannot rely on stable property tax rates or sales tax rates to not spiral out of control.  While the County Sheriff should assist municipalities on an emergency basis, it is unfair for well managed municipalities in the south suburbs (i.e. – Hazel Crest, South Holland, Tinley park) to have less police protection because of the failures of the neighbors. Additionally, The Cook County Board can assist economically depressed areas in the South Suburbs, by not passing ordinance amendments that are; first, illegal and beyond our home rule authority and second that are near-universally opposed by our suburban municipalities Mayors and Economic Development professionals in the South Suburbs.

As a commissioner, how strongly would you support efforts to ensure that voting within the county is secure?

The truest and most secure way to avoid technological interference or tampering in our elections is go low tech, the use of actual paper ballots. I have supported in the past and intend to support in the future any efforts by the county BOT and the County Clerk to help make the county voting systems more secure from interference, both external or internal (not to imply that there is or has been any internal tampering).  Election system security does not begin or end on election day itself, since voting is also impacted by Mail in Ballot, early voting In Person and same day registration.  While deliberate widespread voter fraud is relatively uncommon, election integrity can be put in jeopardy by the emphasis of voter participation over voting security.  A proper balance must be struck so that only eligible citizens can vote to avoid disenfranchising the eligible citizens who do vote. Finally, both the Chicago Board of Election and the Cook County Clerk’s office, who’s mission are to oversee the integrity and fairness of our elections, must take real measures to ensure that NON- Partisan supervisors, employees and internal controls be put in place to ensure the transparent nature and mindset of a true nonpartisan culture within the board of elections. Known active members, or leadership of, any partisan organization,SHOULD NOT be allowed to work in a capacity overseeing the fairness and integrity of elections. This practice is a glaring conflict of interest.

What should the County Board do to help reduce gun violence?

This scourge is predominantly the side effects of gang warfare taking place over control of turf to sell their drugs and traffic sex. and until Politicians acknowledge this, there is no end in sight. Simply put, it will take law enforcement to be supported by the politicians and given the resources and commitment to restore law and order within these communities currently under siege and held hostage. Additionally, it will require the residents standing up against the senseless slaughter taking place daily in their communities to work together with law enforcement and report, identify and testify against the predominately gang related offenders, absent that, this scourge will not end anytime soon. RE. the Gun violence that plagues the city of Chicago and some suburbs. This is mainly caused by illegal possession of guns by people engaged in criminal actions.  The epidemic of gun violence is not caused by law abiding citizens who primarily possess guns to defend their family and home or for hunting and recreational activities, and they cannot have their constitutional rights infringed upon because of the illegal actions of others.  To be effective and uniform, gun regulation needs to be legislated by the state and Federal government. In terms of the enforcement of gun laws to remove illegal guns and remove criminals illegally using guns from the streets, the County Commissioners should continue to support the Sheriff in enforcing current state law already on the books, but most importantly the States Attorney’s office, needs to become exceedingly more aggressive in prosecution of these type of charges.    

What ordinances would you propose and make a priority?

The applicable ordinance would be the budget ordinance to provide as much funding as the county can afford to support the Sheriff’s gun crime suppression efforts.  As stated above, 

I believe the county passing unconstitutional gun restriction laws would only waste county resources fighting lawsuits that would better be used funding medical care for gunshot victims.

Also, any ordinances passed by the county do not apply to Home Rule municipalities in Cook County, including Chicago, where the problem is worst.  Gun restriction ordinances at the county level are publicity stunts by politicians who want to make it look like they are doing something while knowing full well they are doing nothing meaningful to end gun violence.

Should Cook County create a Consensus Revenue Forecasting Commission to give the board independent analyses?

Yes, and more. The County Board should have an independent revenue forecasting commission, an independent ordinance economic impact commission, re-establish our independent legal counsel to the county commissioners and an independent record preservation commission to allow county commissioners access to the administrative records they need to evaluate the progress of the administration without having to resort to FOIA lawsuits or subpoenas.  County government will never be solvent until the Commissioners and citizens are given full access to the true cost of government and the full economic impact of increased taxes, fees and debt.  These Commissioners should be appointed by the county for 10-year terms and only be able to be removed for cause to avoid interference by the administration or county board.  They should posses experience relevant to the appointment and have minimal qualifications of a master’sDegree in Accounting, Public Administration, JD or Mathematics.

Does it make sense for the sheriff’s department to take over the Cook County forest preserve police? Does it make sense for Stroger Hospital to have its own police force? Please explain.

Yes.  In the last two years of budget hearings, I have questioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Office taking over the duties of the Forest Preserve District Police because I believe there are substantial cost savings and efficiencies to be realized. When I placed the question on this specific issue to Sheriff Dart during those budget hearings he expressed to the county board that his office has the capacity to effectively transition into that role as his officers are already patrolling existing beats near much of the forest preserves. I believe the efficiencies and cost savings that could be realized by having the Sheriff’s Office take over the policing duties of the Cook County Forest Preserves is an item that the county board should take up for serious discussion at the 2019 Budget Hearings.  RE. Stroger Hospital, NO Stroger Hospital should never have its own police force.  We need fewer layers of overlapping government function in Cook County, not more.  

Within the forest preserve system, native plants areas in unmanaged land are deteriorating at a rate of about 3 percent per year because of weeds and invasive species. What should be done, if anything, to protect the forest preserve’s ecosystems?

Controlling invasive species is a challenging process and one that is also costly. Land Management is a top priority for the FPDCC and the district has in place an extensive “Managing Invasives” program which relies heavily on volunteer resources. Progress is being made in the FPDCC restoration program but there is no doubt it is quite a daunting task after years of neglect. With expert ecologists working with staff and volunteers, progress is being made. The commitment and resources are being allocated, but we definitely want to see this program continue to grow each year. Looking forward, the growth of the volunteer corps is essential to this mission. More volunteers means more acreage being cleared of invasive species which means the land is being restored back to its natural habitat. We should place a greater onus on recruiting more Cook County high school students in need of fulfilling their community service hours for graduation and encourage them to help in the Forest preserve system. Additionally, we should request the Chief Judge’s office, to recommend to our judges to assignthose able-bodied persons sentenced with mandatory community service hours, to perform theircommunity service hours within the Forest preserve system as part of their sentence.

Are county commissioners, who are mostly Democrats, independent enough of their party and the president?

I certainly appreciate the question, the mere fact that it need be asked speaks to the forgone concluded answer. For the record to this regard, I am 100% non-compromised. Happily, all my family members and friends are gainfully employed in the private sector. As such I have ZERO family or friends on government/political payroll. For many, Yes. The lack of independence of many Democratic Party members is partly due to fear of political reprisal from Toni Preckwinkle and partly due to pandering to constituencies that demand services that cannot be sustained without counterproductive and punitive taxation of homeowners and businesses.  To break this dependency that is caused by the nature of the political party apparatus and primary system and compounded by the autocratic nature of our current County President, I began circulating a petition for a binding referendum to eliminate the partisan primary nomination elections in Cook County and replace it with a nonpartisan primary system like the City of Chicago.  

It is my belief that the elimination of party labels for cook county wide general elections would allow the majority of middle-class voters in Cook County to elect independent county representatives who will cooperate outside the constraints of party ideology or reprisal.  Within a few weeks of circulating those petitions throughout the county (which was scheduled to appear on the November 6, 2018 ballot), Commissioner Suffredin colluded with President Preckwinkleto introduce, for Immediate County board approval to place three competing yet non-bindingreferenda to crowd my nonpartisan citizen initiative question off the November ballot, exactly as Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council did with Pat Quinn’s mayoral term limit referendum.  The city official’s actions were roundly condemned by the major Chicago newspapers with terms such as “deplorable” and “stooges” and “cowardly”, and rightly so.  The Suffredin-Preckwinkle resolutions were the worst example of anti-independent government reform interference I have seen while on the county board, and it was perpetrated by self-described “good government” reformers.  The competing resolutions placed three meaningless advisory questions on the ballot, intentionally killing the opportunity for cook county residents to decide for themselves if they wanted an independent choice in their countywide elected officials.

What can the county do to create synergies with the City of Chicago? Or is this unnecessary?

City and county elected officials and administrators mostly do cooperate with each other as well as state, federal, suburban municipal, township and regional planning agencies to try to make government and the economy work better. However, sadly as has been well documented in the press, the relationship between President Preckwinkle and Mayor Emanuel has been less than stellar, they simply do not communicate, and the relationship has been strained for 6-7 years, evidenced by President Preckwinkles order shuttering the 5th floor passageway leading between Chicago’s City hall and Cook County governmental bodies. There is always room for improvement and it should be pursued at every opportunity.