If there’s one thing Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is certain of, it’s this: He has a right to hire any old way he wants to hire, including padding his payroll with relatives.
On Thursday, a federal monitor begged to differ, filing a report saying Berrios has failed to end nepotism, favoritism and political hiring from his office.
You can almost hear Berrios, who has 15 relatives with government jobs or pensions, saying: So, what’s your point?
Berrios, who also is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, long has defended his right to hire family members for public jobs. But political hiring and firing isn’t cheap for the rest of us. Taxpayers have coughed up $529,000 to atone for Berrios firing 11 people for political reasons. Then there’s the legal costs of going to court to try to get the assessor to comply with a Cook County Board of Ethics
ruling on nepotism, something he refuses to do. We shouldn’t have to pay even
more for the upkeep of Berrios’s many relatives.
The county’s leading proponent of nepotism is supposed to be demonstrating to a judge that he is complying with professional hiring practices. Instead, said a federal monitor, Berrios is playing a shell game by moving his hires from one job title to another. Berrios did hire a director of compliance in July 2013 but repeatedly brushed off her efforts before she finally was fired, the monitor said.
Other local government units have been assiduously working to meet the terms of the so-called Shakman decree, which is based on a law that bans political hiring and firing. The City of Chicago, the Cook County sheriff and the Cook County Forest Preserve District all have demonstrated they have cleaned up their acts.
Berrios seems more bent on helping us remember why we needed the Shakman decree in the first place.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the number of family members Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios employs.