Brand new Cook County Board President Bobbie L. Steele hit the ground running, naming J.W. Fairman as superintendent of the Juvenile Detention Center before her four-month term officially began Tuesday.
“We will select a new team to lead this facility,” said the Chicago Democrat at her installation ceremony in the Loop. “More changes at the juvenile detention center will come quickly with input and advice from outside counsel, from experts and [from the board].”
Steele, 68, takes over on an interim basis for retired President John Stroger, and becomes the first woman in the board’s 175-year history to serve as president. Fairman, currently the county’s director of public safety, steps in at a crucial juncture as the troubled Juvenile Detention Center scrambles to formulate a plan to comply with court-ordered reforms.
As for the office of the president, Al Pritchett will serve as Steele’s chief of staff. Pritchett takes over for James Whigham, who served under Stroger and took on his boss’ official tasks after Stroger suffered a stroke in March.
This “changing of the guard” is just the beginning, Steele said. “I commit to you [that] by the end of four months, you, the taxpayers, will see a county government that is moving toward making us much more responsible, responsive, open and accountable,” Steele said.
This is her 20th year serving on the board.
At a swearing-in ceremony that was part coronation, part religious revival, Steele announced a plan to meet these goals and deal with the $300 million deficit. She immediately mandated a cross-department hiring freeze and has put together a team to facilitate the creation of a 2007 budget before her term ends Dec. 4.
“I will have fewer than 100 days as interim president … to turn around this large dinosaur,” Steele said, “so my next steps are simple: I am commissioning a transition team that will quickly and efficiently deep dive into the facts.”
Fellow Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Westchester) said he is impressed by Steele’s ambition. “She has been extremely forthright and inviting in her solicitation of ideas from all the commissioners,” he said. “I had a lengthy meeting with her just yesterday.”
Peraica, the Republican nominee for Cook County Board president, will take on Todd Stroger, who replaced his father on the ballot, in the November election for the Cook County Board presidency.
Steele, however, a former schoolteacher, appears determined to make the most of her 100 days as interim president. Even before she took the oath Tuesday morning, Steele’s name and title were printed in impressive golden letters on the glass door of the president’s office.
She may be eager to get to work, but Steele said she knows she will need all the help she can get.
“This is not a one-woman show,” Steele said, addressing the other commissioners. “We must work together because only together can we tackle the problems confronting this county.”