Several split votes by an uncharacteristically divided DuPage County Board did more than ensure the county's youth home soon will close.
It also gave DuPage's top elected official confidence he and the board members can address other potentially controversial topics in 2012.
Shrinking local government, partnering with municipalities on police patrols and finding another use for the county fairgrounds are some of the issues county board Chairman Dan Cronin hopes to tackle during his second year in office. Meanwhile, he said, the decision to close the youth home and transfer detainees to Kane County was a defining moment.
"It was an opportunity to put words into action," Cronin said. "It was tough for the board. They hadn't had a vote like that in some time, where they really had opposing sides and the viewpoints were expressed in a rather animated fashion."
Still, the Elmhurst Republican said he and a board majority managed to come together "to accomplish good government."
"The (youth home) is a good example of how difficult it is to turn back the clock once you have an established unit of government," Cronin said. "The interests become so entrenched, that it's very, very difficult to undo.
"That was the first step," he added. "It's not going to be any easier in the future."
Cronin is going to need the board's support if an analysis of fire protection districts, sanitary districts, mosquito abatement districts and other local governmental entities finds opportunities for consolidation.
By the end of January, DuPage is expected to get a report from a public accounting and consulting firm doing a comprehensive review of the two dozen independent boards and commissions Cronin appoints.
The county paid Crowe Horwath LLP $85,000 to do the assessment after financial scandals involving the DuPage Housing Authority and the DuPage Water Commission.
Cronin replaced the housing authority board after a series of federal audits showed the agency misspent or failed to account for more than $10 million. The water commission was revamped after it accidentally spent $69 million in reserves through poor accounting practices and lackadaisical financial oversight.
As part of the review of the other entities, the consultants are going through budgets, ethics policies, personnel policies, bylaws and other materials.
Once the assessment is done, officials will consider ways to improve efficiency, streamline operations, share services and increase transparency to the public. Cronin said there also might be ways to consolidate agencies.
The fact the boards and commissions being examined are independent taxing entities doesn't seem to discourage Cronin.
"I think independence takes a back seat to being accountable," Cronin said. "Independence is what got us into trouble with the water commission. Independence is what got us into trouble with the housing authority. I have a duty and a responsibility to the taxpayers."
Cronin said he plans to work with agencies to have them willingly make changes. If efforts to get mutual agreements fail, the former state senator says he's willing to seek changes to Illinois law.
Possible consolidation opportunities could involve merging mosquito abatement districts and sanitary districts with other governmental entities. But Cronin said the key for any consolidation proposal is to save taxpayers money.
When it comes to making county government more efficient, Cronin says it might be time for the DuPage County Fair to find a new home. He said the 40-acre county fairgrounds in Wheaton could be "more productively used" if the fair was relocated.
"I want the fair to continue," Cronin stressed. "It's a virtuous enterprise. I just think we ought to think long and hard about a different approach."
Cronin isn't the first one to propose moving the fair. In 2000, the county was in serious talks about relocating the annual event to the Danada Forest Preserve in southern Wheaton, but neighbors thwarted that proposal. Then in 2007, former board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom suggested moving the fairgrounds to a 108-acre parcel near DuPage Airport in West Chicago.
Moving the fair isn't the only idea Cronin might resurrect.
He said officials will need to find a long-term solution to the financial challenges facing the DuPage County Convalescent Center.
"We have to explore all the different options," Cronin said, adding that privatizing the Wheaton facility is one of those options.
Another way the county could save money is by partnering with municipalities. Cronin said one example that could be studied is asking police departments to help patrol unincorporated neighborhoods near their towns.
"It doesn't make sense to me that you would have a deputy sheriff in Wheaton drive out to Elmhurst to patrol a mile and a half of road in unincorporated York Township," Cronin said, "when you could have an Elmhurst policeman driving through that area."