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Cook County assessor gave daughter a $10,000 pay raise

Joe Berrios wins race for Cook County Assessor as 31st Alderman Ray Suarez (left) joins him stage. At right is

Joe Berrios wins the race for Cook County Assessor as 31st Alderman Ray Suarez (left) joins him on stage. At right is Joe's daughter State Rep. Toni Berrios who holds her niece, Abigail Rodriguez, 2. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 24, 2011 12:21AM

Even as he makes cuts elsewhere, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios gave his daughter a promotion and $10,000 raise.

And Berrios sees no need to apologize for that.

“She knows the job,” Berrios, who was elected last November, says of his daughter, Vanessa Berrios, who has worked in the assessor’s office since 1999. “We took her out of her old title and put her into a new title.”

After he was sworn in as assessor in December, Berrios promoted his daughter from a job as an analyst examining valuation appeals of industrial and commercial properties to the post of chief industrial appraiser. In that job, she oversees analysts’ work.

With the new title, her pay went from $58,344.00 to $68,288.48, according to county payroll records.

“Now, we’re giving her even more responsibilities to supervise more people,” says Berrios, whose office sets the values that property taxes are based on in Cook County. “She’s entitled to that salary.”

Vanessa Berrios’ promotion and pay raise came as her father is requiring most workers in his county office to take 10 unpaid furlough days this year because of budget cuts.

The elder Berrios says boosting his daughter’s pay is justified because she has taken on some duties that previously were handled by the office’s manager of industrial and commercial valuations — a post that has been left vacant since the last person to fill the job, James Galvin, retired. His salary was $106,000.

“If I go out and hire a replacement for Jim Galvin, I’ve got to pay that person $100,000,” Berrios says. “Right now, I’m saving $100,000.”

Besides promoting his daughter, Berrios also hired two other members of his family — his son, Joseph “Joey’’ Berrios, as a $48,000-a-year residential analyst and his sister, Carmen Berrios, as director of taxpayer services, at a salary of $86,000. The two also worked for him when he served as a commissioner on the county tax appeals Board of Review.

Both positions are considered political posts, exempt from the court-ordered Shakman decree that bans most political hiring and firing in city and county government.

Their hirings prompted a county ethics board investigation. That investigation continues.

The county ethics ordinance bars elected officials from hiring a relative who would fall under their supervision.

Since Vanessa Berrios got promoted, the Cook County Board made that ethics ordinance tougher.

Now, “it further restricts an official or employee from not just hiring the relative under their supervision but [from] being in any way involved in their employment,” including making decisions on pay raises and promotions, says MaryNic Foster, who heads the ethics board. “What it really spells out is
. . . that, as a department head or a supervisor, I can’t supervise any of my relatives, I shouldn’t be able to impact their terms of employment, and really they shouldn’t be anywhere near me.”

That doesn’t mean that a county official’s relative couldn’t work in another arm of county government.

Berrios says there’s good reason for him to want to have three close family members on his payroll.

“They’re very trustful,” he says of his family members. “They know their jobs. And I’m happy they’re there. At the end of the day, the taxpayers will benefit from all of this because the assessment will be fair.”

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