Rezko's wife criticized for board attendance

Rita Rezko under fire for alleged sporadic monthly board attendance worth 38K per year
June 4, 2008 1:52:48 PM PDT
The corruption trial of Tony Rezko is giving us new insight into how political appointments are made to many obscure boards and commissions in the state.Those positions exist in nearly every level of government. In Cook County, some part-time jobs pay as much as full-time work.

Now the wife of indicted fundraiser Rezko is facing scrutiny for her attendance record on one such board.

Federal prosecutors portray Tony Rezko as the money man behind several prominent politicians. Chief among them is Governor Rod Blagojevich. But while the current governor was still a congressman, Rezko was raising big money for former Cook County Board President John Stroger. And that's when the late Stroger appointed his fundraiser's wife to a little known board that has now become a reliable source of income for the Rezko family.

During Tony Rezko's high-flying days as an international businessman, political confidant and fundraiser, the $38,000 a year salary his wife drew from Cook County wouldn't even cover the property taxes on the couple's Wilmette mansion. But these days, Mr. Rezko is in jail and on trial. He told a judge earlier this year he was teetering on bankruptcy.

His wife continues her work on the Cook County Employee Appeals Board. It decides on the fairness of firings for the roughly 6,000 non-union workers on the county's payroll. Last year, they handled 18 cases.

Rita Rezko has been on the board for eight years. But recently, and understandably, she has had to spend a lot of time at the Dirksen Federal Building. It's where her husband is on trial, accused of stacking state boards and then fixing some of their votes. No one has called into question Mrs. Rezko's work on the Appeals Board; but some say her attendance leaves a lot to be desired.

She and other board members are each paid $38,500 a year - and they receive health insurance - for this "part-time" job. They're expected to attend roughly one meeting per month.

According to documents released by the county, back in 2005, Mrs. Rezko missed nearly half of the meetings. The following year she attended eight of 14 sessions. Last year, her attendance greatly improved and she only missed one. But now, with her husband on trial, she has only made it to one of three board meetings held so far this year.

"Do you think you've put in attendance worthy of $38,000 a year?" ABC7's Ben Bradley asked her.

"Oh, absolutely. Just like everyone else on that board," Rita Rezko replied.

She's not exactly just like everyone else. Chairman Bill Filan has only missed two meetings in the last three years. Board secretary Gary Weintraub hasn't missed any.

"I really don't want to talk about anything," Rita Rezko said.

"For example, until today's, you've missed every board meeting except for this one," Bradley pressed. Rita Rezko walked away.

"I'd like to say just sometimes because you're not at the meetings doesn't mean you're not working," said Gene Mullins, Cook Co. Board president's spokesman.

Mullins, a spokesman for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, said he is looking into Mrs. Rezko's reasons for missing meetings but concedes there is no policy that dictates how often board members must show up.

"He doesn't feel it's acceptable for anyone in any capacity working for the county to miss half the days you're supposed to be employed. But as you know, there are extenuating circumstances that can lead you to, such as illness or other things," Mullins said.

"It always seems if you're politically connected there are a special set of rules for you. You get certain courtesies the rest of us aren't going to get," said Jay Stewart, Better Government Association.

A spokesman Cook County Board President Todd Stroger says as a result of our report, he is ordering new attendance guidelines be drawn up for each and every board within Cook County government.

As for Mrs. Rezko's future, the Stroger spokesman says they're looking into the reasons for all of her absences.

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