Weeks after Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios drew criticism for putting his son and sister on the payroll, a report was sent out by two county watchdogs reminding of ethics rules against hiring kin.
The two-page “advisory,” co-authored by county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard and ethics board chief MaryNic Foster, doesn’t go after Berrios specifically, but tongues are wagging about the timing of its release and the clear reminder of the ethics ordinance, which prohibits county elected officials and other employees from hiring or immediately supervising a relative.
Berrios was sworn into office earlier this month and made headlines when he quickly hired his son and sister to work for him.
Joseph “Joey” Berrios, now a $48,000-a-year residential analyst, and Carmen Cruz, the $86,000-a-year director of taxpayer services, also worked for Joseph Berrios when he served on the county’s tax appeals board, something good government groups repeatedly criticized.
Asked about the hires earlier this month, Berrios told the Sun-Times: “They’ve got experience, and I’m hiring people with experience.”
Berrios, who was cc’d on the note with other elected leaders, reviewed the report and is “taking it under advisement,” said spokeswoman Kelley Quinn.
“It’s like beating a dead horse at this point,” Quinn said of the criticism. “We’re talking about two people with a combined 20-plus years with Cook County.”
Asked whether Berrios might rethink the hires considering he may have violated county ethics law, Quinn said: “Absolutely not. I think because we do have them here, this transition has gone smoothly.”
But the Inspector General and ethics chief’s report seems to take aim at that: “[W]e are unaware of an employment protocol that would support a deviation from the ordinance when the covered employee possesses a high degree of competence and qualification for a position,” Blanchard and Foster wrote in the report.
Blanchard told the Sun-Times he and Foster weren’t asked by anyone to produce the report — rather it was their initiative. He also said it wasn’t aimed at any one official but served as an “advisory” to remind officials about the ethics ordinance — different from an investigation report that explains ordinance violations or other problems and recommends policy changes or even sanctions.
Blanchard and Foster were tight-lipped when asked whether their offices were investigating the Berrios hirings.
The advisory, a copy of which was obtained by the Sun-Times, was sent to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the 17 commissioners.
Preckwinkle, who has supported Berrios politically, called him and told him the hires were “inappropriate.” She has vowed never to hire a relative.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
This just makes such common sense that it ought to be law.