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Cook County watchdogs warn: Don’t hire relatives

A Cook County judge this week ruled against County Assessor Joe Berrios giving county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard green light

A Cook County judge this week ruled against County Assessor Joe Berrios, giving county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard the green light to investigate fraud, corruption and waste in the tax office. | Sun-Times files

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Weeks after Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios drew criticism for putting his son and sister on the payroll, a report was sent out by two county watchdogs reminding of ethics rules against hiring kin.

The two-page “advisory,” co-authored by county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard and ethics board chief MaryNic Foster, doesn’t go after Berrios specifically, but tongues are wagging about the timing of its release and the clear reminder of the ethics ordinance, which prohibits county elected officials and other employees from hiring or immediately supervising a relative.

Berrios was sworn in this month and made headlines when he hired his son and sister to work for him.

Joseph “Joey” Berrios, now a $48,000-a-year residential analyst, and Carmen Cruz, the $86,000-a-year director of taxpayer services, also worked for Joseph Berrios when he served on the county’s tax appeals board, something good government groups repeatedly criticized.

Asked about the hires earlier this month, Berrios told the Sun-Times: “They’ve got experience, and I’m hiring people with experience.”

Berrios, who was cc’d on the note with other elected leaders, reviewed the report and is “taking it under advisement,” said spokeswoman Kelley Quinn.

“It’s like beating a dead horse at this point,” Quinn said of the criticism. “We’re talking about two people with a combined 20-plus years with Cook County.”

Asked whether Berrios might rethink the hires considering he may have violated county ethics law, Quinn said: “Absolutely not. I think because we do have them here, this transition has gone smoothly.”

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