Stroger hire feeds fire in county meeting

April 23, 2009 (CHICAGO) At issue- the hiring of Tony Cole. Cole was paid $60,000 to work as a secretary for chief financial officer Donna Dunnings. Cole did not mention he had a criminal record when applying for the job, but his record was brought into the light when he was bailed out of jail by Dunnings twice. Dunnings has since resigned at the direction of Stroger, who is her first cousin.

Two weeks ago, Stroger said when he learned Cole had lied about his criminal record on a job application he had him fired. However, it now appears that the county had information about Cole's criminal history five months ago- but didn't act until reporters asked questions.

On Thursday, commissioners-- including Tim Schneider-- asked the questions.

"That's outside of finances," said Stroger.

"That's the elephant in the room," said Tim Schneider, (R) Cook County commissioner.

"Well there's no elephant," said Stroger.

"I just want you to clear it up," said Schneider.

Todd Stroger did not offer any more explanations to commissioners or the press. But he did reassure them that the county's finances are in fine shape despite the fact Dunnings was forced to resign after bailing Cole out of jail for the second time. It's sticky because Stroger personally hired Cole -- who was working as a busboy -- to be Dunnings' secretary.

The problem is Cole did not mention his criminal history on his job application.

Cole was hired in October 2008. One month later, state police say they sent Cole's rap-sheet to the county, but it mysteriously got "lost in the mail."

However, that same day, the county also received an FBI background check that revealed convictions for disorderly conduct and battery. Stroger's spokesman says it wasn't acted on because of "human error."

Cole wasn't fired until Dunnings bailed him out after a domestic violence charge became public earlier this month.

"I think when we start talking about throwing people under a bus, remember: It's her today, could be you tomorrow," said Deborah Sims, (D) Cook County commissioner.

Stroger's team is fighting back. One aide even shouted-down Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin by pointing out he has a brother on the county payroll.

"It's what I expect. It's what I expect. When you have a government that..." said Suffredin.

"Donna Dunnings did a good job as well," said Christine Geovanis, Stroger spokesperson.

"I didn't say," said Suffredin.

"You voted for Donna Dunnings. The brouhaha and innuendos you've raised..." said Geovanis. "Well, he doesn't talk to the hired help."

Stroger's team says this is a made-for-the-media political scandal thats flames are being fanned by those who want to run for county board president.

When asked why president Stroger awarded his steakhouse busboy friend a $50-60,000 a year job instead of something more entry level, a Stroger spokesperson responded that it's important for the county to pay people a "living wage."

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