Report details history of “Crook County” corruption

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

“Crook County” corruption how much do we let it go on?

 

A report issued today by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Better Government Association chronicles corruption in Cook County, calling the county “infested with conflicts of interest.”

In addition to naming about 150 convicted county politicians and employees, it outlines a five-point plan for curing the county of corruption.

“Cook County has become Crook County,” said UIC professor Dick Simpson, one of the report’s authors, at a press conference today outside County Board President Todd Stroger’s office. “This pervasive pattern of corruption must be changed if county government is to provide honest, effective, efficient and transparent government that taxpayers can afford.”

The report, the third in an ongoing series published by UIC, includes a lengthy list of offenses, ranging from decades-long corruption in the assessor’s office to the offenses in the 1980s and 1990s in the sheriff’s office and more recent instances in the offices of the president and the clerk of court.

Simpson, flanked by Congressman Mike Quigley, a former county commissioner, and Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, said the county should take steps to eliminate corruption.

Recommendations include barring officials from collecting multiple pensions, auditing the county’s operations, and preventing elected officials from working as lobbyists.

At least one commissioner, Evanston Democrat Larry Suffredin, has acted as a lobbyist, according to public records and news reports.

Quigley called the county’s history of corruption “a tragic comedy,” and said Illinois is a laughingstock in the halls of Congress.

“It’s not just costing us money,” he said. “It’s costing us a critical ability to govern democracy.”

The report delves into County Board President Todd Stroger’s hiring of Tony Cole, a busboy-turned-administrative assistant with a felonious past.

After he was fired in April 2009, former chief financial officer Donna Dunnings, Stroger’s cousin, resigned. She twice bailed Cole out jail and allegedly helped him, recoup pay for days he did not report for work, according to news reports.

Last month, Stroger fired three Shakman-exempt Forest Preserve employees. All three had either donated to campaigns of Stroger’s opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination for County Board president or were tied to his political rivals.

The BGA report recounts efforts by employees to siphon money from the President’s Office Employement Training program.

The report also details allegations of corruption at the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, whose practices of asking employees for campaign donations received media attention during her her unsuccessful run for County Board president.

Stroger spokeswoman Chris Geovanis called the press conference a publicity stunt, and pointed to measures undertaken by Stroger to curb corruption.

“President Stroger has a documented track record of achievement in pushing forward real reform and real openness, despite objections from both county agencies and, sometimes, county commissioners,” she said.

Stroger increased the powers of the county’s inspector general and helped revise the county’s procurement code, as well as signing the Shakman decree, barring political hiring and firing for some county jobs. Geovanis said no indictments have stemmed from Stroger’s administration.

The county has undertaken measures to make its operations more transparent. Last week it put its checkbook online, allowing the public to view its expenses. Clerk David Orr’s office has begun tallying roll call votes from County Board meetings. There’s also a new Web page devoted to tracking disclosure efforts.

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