TB district severance payout vote halted

? The resignation of two board members effectively kills a vote on severance packages for TB district employees.

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By KAREN CALABRIA, Medill News Service

The board of a suburban tuberculosis agency must refrain from voting on the proposed allocation of more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money for employee severance packages, a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled Jan. 12.

Judge Mary Anne Mason cancelled a week-old order barring the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District's board from voting on the contested items in the agency's proposed 2005 annual budget.

"We dissolved the temporary restraining order with the assurance that if they consider [the items] again, they'll alert us," said Assistant State's Attorney Maureen O'Hannon.

But a spokeswoman for the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District, which provides TB testing and treatment for area residents, said the board "will continue to make decisions based on the best interests of its patients and the taxpayers of suburban Cook County."

The district, created in 1947 to treat and prevent the spread of tuberculosis in the suburban Cook County area, has diagnosed and treated 1,421 active cases of tuberculosis over the last decade and sees nearly 2,500 patients a year with both active and latent diagnoses of the disease, according to agency reports.

Nevertheless, Cook County Board President John Stroger is currently debating the need for the agency, which oversees clinics in Forest Park, Des Plaines, Harvey and Evanston.

At issue are two items in the budget. The Cook County state's attorney's office alleges that the proposed allocation of $745,205 for employee severance payments and $767,900 for post-retirement healthcare if the agency is dissolved is a misappropriation of public funds. The matter will be revisited in court on Feb. 23.

O'Hannon said that the issue is no longer relevant because the resignation of two of the board's five members last week prevents the board from voting with a quorum anyway.

Former board members C. Louise Brown and Anwar Choudry resigned from the board last week in the wake of the lawsuit. Questions about how to spend the profits from the recent sale of the agency's former tuberculosis hospital in Hinsdale have also generated controversy.

Brown, who said she left the board because instead of "talking about ways TB control can be done in Cook County at meetings, we were talking about these controversies," remains steadfast in her support of the agency's actions.

"This business of saying that there was a misappropriation of funds is a lie," Brown said. "Anyone who sits down and looked at [the issues] would see that [the allegations] aren't true."

Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District officials anticipate they will replace the two vacant board seats by their next meeting, scheduled for March 23.

In her ruling Judge Mason stipulated that should the board convene to review the contested items in the agency's budget, they are obliged to notify the state in writing five days prior to the meeting.

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