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Local News

Special meeting in the works on Will County Health Department cuts

JOLIET – Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. is expected to call a special County Board meeting this week to address pending Health Department cuts, saying in a news release he was “very disappointed” by the board Executive Committee’s move to vote down a loan request last week for the department.

“It is no surprise to myself, the County Board, or our residents that we are in a very unfortunate situation here in Illinois,” Walsh said in a news release. “However, if we just stand by and watch as our health services for our most vulnerable residents crumble and do nothing. … Well, shame on anyone who chooses that option.”

The 10-member Executive Committee voted to reject the $426,783 request, but agreed to advance it to the full 26-member board for a vote. At the end of the same meeting, however, they voted 6-4 to reverse the decision after Health Department staff and union leaders left.

A special meeting would allow the full board a chance to vote on a last-ditch attempt to avoid dozens of layoffs and the suspension of services, including adult behavioral health, crisis response and juvenile justice.

Will County Health Department union employees asked Walsh Sr. to call the meeting, Dave Delrose, president for American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Local 1028, said Friday.

“We’ve talked to [Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr.] about doing that and he seems to be open to doing that,” Delrose said. “It would give the opportunity for the entire board to discuss and debate the issue of important cuts.”

Board members in the past week have accused each other of “playing politics” and using the department’s crisis as political fodder in a competitive election season.

Republican Caucus Chairman Chuck Maher on Friday criticized Walsh’s latest move as a way
to shore up union support in the upcoming November election.

“Larry Walsh is about jobs and the jobs he’s put people into,” Maher said. “He’s trying to make nice with the union. Does he think it’s going to help him?”

Walsh and local union employees butted heads in 2013 during intense contract negotiations and a county employee strike over health insurance premiums and pay raises.

“These guys don’t want to work with us. They should be as mad at Springfield as we are. I don’t know why we’re not focused on the state,” Maher said.

“I don’t want to make promises to people that we can’t keep and sustain,” he added.

Bob Howard, D-Beecher, a County Board member for District 1, argued the county would only be lending the Health Department funds until Illinois passes a budget.

A special meeting would give all 26 board members a say, he said.

“I think a situation of this size should be [vetted by the full board.] Otherwise, six votes could literally eliminate services for 50,000 clients,” Howard said.

Jim Harvey, counsel for the county executive’s office, said Friday special meetings are rare, but have happened.

Under Illinois statute, Walsh Sr. would have to sign an executive order and copies of it would need to be delivered to each of the 26 board members’ residences at least 24 hours before the meeting, Harvey said.

An agenda would have to be posted 48 hours in advance of the meeting.

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