Stroger's office defends pay hike for cousin

March 24, 2008 4:01:36 PM PDT
The spotlight is on Cook County Board President Todd Stroger: his office handed out a big pay raise to his cousin, who is the county's chief financial officer. The president's office defended the increase on Monday.

The Chicago Sun-Times put the story of this pay increase -- with photos -- on the front page of Monday morning's paper. The PR people in County Board President Todd Stroger's office called the report a "cheap shot" and held a "we're not gonna take it anymore" news conference.

"All we do is ask for fairness in reporting. That's all we ever ask for," said Eugene Mullins, Stroger administration spokesman.

At the risk of helping the Sun-Times sell more newspapers, the Stroger administration's media team called the front page story about the 12 percent pay increase for the county's chief financial officer Donna Dunnings irresponsible and smelling of an agenda.

"This is not just about truth in journalism, this is about a larger effort by the Sun-Times to distort public opinion against this administration," said Mullins.

Stroger promoted Dunnings -- his cousin -- from budget director to CFO last year. At the time, she cited the county's 2007 deficit and did not accept the higher salary that came with her new job. Now that the county is solvent, having passed a 1 percent sales tax increase, she will accept her budgeted salary of nearly $160,000, which is 12 percent more than she made last year.

"It's sort of acknowledging that that's a civically responsible leadership role to take. The Sun-Times instead runs with 3-inch banner headlines today to castigate her for taking her budgeted salary," said Christine Geovanis, Stroger administration spokeswoman.

Stroger opponents on the county board seized the opportunity to criticize Dunnings for claiming a 12 percent raise just weeks after the sales tax increase.

"I think its offensive to every taxpayer who is sweating, anticipating a second installment real estate tax bill coming in the mail," said Commissioner Tony Peraica, (R) Riverside.

"Todd Stroger just passed the largest tax increase in Cook County history and the first thing he does is hand out a big raise, on top of a six-figure salary, to his cousin," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool, (D) Chicago.

ABC7 called the Sun-Times for a response to the Stroger administration's unfairness charge. So far, the editor to whom Charles Thomas spoke has not called back with a statement.

The media team in Stroger's office is newly appointed. They've only been on the job a few weeks and it appears they will be more aggressive in their defense of their boss.


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