County assessor defends hiring of family members

December 9, 2010 (CHICAGO) Assessor Joseph Berrios hired his son and his sister.

On Thursday night, new Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the hiring of family members is inappropriate.

As she tries to "reinvent" county government, Preckwinkle's party chairman has gone 'old school' - hiring relatives to help run his office.

With tax bills due within days, Cook County's new assessor, Joseph Berrios, had to hit the ground running.

"We have hundreds of taxpayers coming in here right now because they haven't got their exemptions," said Berrios.

Berrios says he will do a better job assessing home values with help from two employees who worked with him at the Board of Review.

"My end game is to get as much information to taxpayers as I possibly can by making sure that their assessments are fair and correct."

However, the two helpful workers following their boss to his new job are Berrios's son Joey, who will work as a $48,000-a-year residential analyst and his sister Carmen, who signed on as the assessor's $86,000-a-year director of taxpayer services.

The so-called 'Shakman-exempt' hires are legal, and Berrios is not worried about the perception that he's practicing nepotism.

"The perception is gonna be there, but guess what: We're gonna prove them wrong with the work they're gonna do," said Berrios. "I expect them to do more work than anybody up here."

Berrios' daughter, Vanessa, has worked in the office since 1998, meaning there are now three of the boss's relatives on the office payroll.

Preckwinkle, who supported Berrios's election, disapproves, saying she is trying to change what she called "the culture" of county government.

"I think its inappropriate, and I had a conversation with Joe about it this morning," said Preckwinkle.

Berrios, the Cook County Democratic Party chairman as well as the first Latino assessor, was unbowed. He said he invites the scrutiny.

"I want people to look at me. I want them to see the actual work I'll be doing for the taxpayers here in Cook County," said Berrios. "We need to open doors and continue to open doors for people."

Also on the county hiring front today, Preckwinkle announced that Robin Kelly, the losing Democratic candidate for state treasurer, will join her administration as chief administrative officer.

Kelly has served as chief of staff for current Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

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