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Preckwinkle ‘friends’ Berrios — even though she thinks he’s wrong to hire relatives

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday Oct. 16 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 17, 2012 11:19AM

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios may be under fire, but he’s still got a friend in a fellow Democrat, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

As the Sun-Times first reported in Tuesday’s paper, Berrios is thumbing his nose at a subpoena issued by the county’s top watchdog seeking documents about an employee under investigation for misconduct.

He’s also ignored an ethics board recommendation to fire three relatives on his payroll as well as a $10,000 fine the panel issued for violating the ethics policy by hiring his son and sister. His daughter was already on the payroll when he was elected in 2010.

Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times last week she is backing an effort to enforce the fine.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times Editorial Board: “First of all, Joe is my friend, which is where I always begin. Secondly, I made it quite clear I don’t agree with him on the issue of employing family members. I was very clear about that from the very beginning.”

“The board of ethics has fined him $10,000 and ordered him to separate his relatives from the payroll. We’re going to defend that position, both because I think it’s right and because the board of ethics is under the president’s office,” she said.

Preckwinkle backed Berrios, the head of the Cook County Democratic Party and former head of the county’s property tax appeals board.

Asked whether she’d support him if he were up for re-election, she was measured — saying that he had been instrumental in getting second-installment property tax bills out on time, the first time in 30 years. While taxpayers may not like the on-time arrival, it means schools and other taxing districts won’t have to take out loans and pay the related interest rates to make ends meet.

“Joe has been critical in that,” she said.

The assessor’s office helps determine residential and business property tax bills.

“I think Joe has done a good job of running his office,” she said.

But she also says the inspector general has the authority, outlined in county ordinance, to subpoena the assessor and any other county office.

Last month the inspector general issued a subpoena seeking documents about an employee who allegedly received an illegal tax break.

If the information isn’t turned over, the case could end up in court.

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