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Despite criticism, new assessor Berrios hires son, sister

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Criticized repeatedly for stacking the public payroll with family members, Joe Berrios has hired his son and sister to work for him as he takes the reins of the Cook County assessor’s office.

Berrios, who was sworn in as assessor Monday after winning a rough-and-tumble election, hired son Joseph “Joey’’ Berrios as a $48,000-a-year residential analyst and sister Carmen Cruz as director of taxpayer services at a salary of $86,000.

That was their pay when they worked for Berrios at the Cook County Board of Review, which hears property tax appeals.

“They’ve got experience, and I’m hiring people with experience,’’ Berrios told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

Berrios said he wants competent people he can trust working for the assessor’s office, which sets the value of real estate for taxing purposes.

“I trust them,’’ he said. “It is what it is.’’

Berrios took hit after hit on the campaign trail — largely for accepting donations from tax attorneys who appealed cases before the tax appeals review board — but also for keeping family on the county payroll.

Asked whether the hirings confirm the past criticism, Berrios said: “I still won the election.’’

He beat former Democratic County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who ran as an independent and tried to peg Berrios as a “business-as-usual’’ machine Democrat. Claypool couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

But Cindi Canary with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform immediately ripped the hirings.

“Obviously, he doesn’t give a damn, does he?’’ said Canary. “Yes, he won the election, but it’s been abundantly clear that the voters in Cook County are getting wary of this nepotism.’’

Berrios’ son will be working in the assessor’s office with homeowners who have questions or complaints about their tax bill in the Residential Taxpayer Services office. Cruz will also be working in taxpayer services.

In addition, his daughter, Vanessa Berrios, will now call her dad ‘‘boss.’’ She was hired 11 years ago by Jim Houlihan, Berrios’ predecessor in the assessor’s office. Vanessa Berrios, an industrial and commercial property analyst, will keep her $58,000 salary.

Like Toni Preckwinkle, the new Cook County Board president who took office this week, Berrios also has cleaned house, firing 13 staffers who worked for Houlihan, who had been a staunch supporter of Claypool.

Those staffers were “at-will’’ employees — meaning they serve at the pleasure of their boss — and are typically part of a revolving door of staffers when one elected official leaves and another takes over.

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