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Fed probe doesn’t faze Dorothy Brown, who just asked for a raise

Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown — whose office is under federal investigation for the possible purchasing of jobs and promotions — wants a raise.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the 17 elected commissioners who make up the county board, Brown hints that gender bias might explain why she makes only $105,000.

She uses several charts to highlight a “gross inequity” in pay disparity.

One chart contrasts the salaries of court clerks in neighboring counties that have fewer employees under their charge and a lower volume of legal filings to organize.

The clerk in DuPage County earns $155,958. The clerk in Lake County earns $121,713, according to her chart.

“Please note that both of these clerks are male,” Brown wrote.

“This possibly speaks to the old adage of women having to do double the work, and in these cases, 6.5 times the work, and receive less pay,” she said referring to the amount of legal filings her office handles.

The court clerk has not received a raise in 16 years, and this was her first request for a raise, she noted in the letter.

“I humbly and respectfully ask that you consider as an add-on to the May 11, 2016, Cook County Board Agenda an Ordinance that would adjust the salary of the position of Clerk of the Circuit Court with an amount that you feel would be fair and equitable to close the disparity gap,” Brown states in the letter.

Preckwinkle flatly scuttled the idea Wednesday afternoon. She will not raise the topic at the next county board meeting, she said through her spokesman Frank Shuftan.

“The Clerk of the Circuit Court’s salary, like the salaries of all separately elected County officials, is set by law. Clerk Brown’s salary is the same as that of the County Treasurer, the County Clerk and the County Recorder of Deeds. It is more than the salaries of County Board Commissioners and Board of Review Commissioners. These are very difficult fiscal times for Cook County and all local governments, and not the appropriate time to discuss raises for elected officials,” Shuftan said.

Finance committee chair John Daley said Wednesday that in mid-April Brown handed him a proposed ordinance that spelled out a $10,000 raise, hoping he would back her plan.

“I just told her ‘Absolutely not. I won’t support this.’ And turned and walked away but I felt her right on my heels. I turned around and she said ‘I want that’ and I said, ‘Take it.’ ”

Daley said Brown told him that she wanted to pitch the raise to other commissioners who might introduce it at a county board meeting.

“But there is no support for it. No support whatsoever,” he said.

The request comes less than than two weeks after Sivasubramani Rajaram — a former Brown employee — pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury that had been investigating the purchasing of jobs and promotions within Brown’s office.

As part of the probe, federal investigators armed with a subpoena seized Brown’s cellphone in October.

Brown has not been charged with a crime.

But the timing of her request seems tone deaf, said Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-Chicago).

“I think it’s an understatement to say that in the private sector — let alone a public official — the time to ask for a pay raise is not while you’re under federal investigation,” Fritchey said Wednesday.

“And for the clerk to play the gender card is arguably offensive to women,” he added.

Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park) does not support the raise either.

“I don’t think any elected official should be asking for a raise right now with the way the climate is and the way the budget is,” he said.

For Brown, winning county board approval will be an uphill battle.

“I’m a ‘No,’ ” Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said.

“It’s exactly the wrong time. And this is an office that has problems that should be addressed first before the occupant should request a pay raise,” Suffredin added.

Brown’s office has a reputation for bloat and patronage and has been criticized for its slow and inefficient attempts to adapt to record keeping in a digital age.

“Modernization will result in less employees, and I’m not sure I’ve seen an elected official eager to give up the jobs they control,” said one elected official who asked to remain anonymous.

Brown won the the March 15 Democratic primary despite the fact that the Cook County Democratic Party rescinded its endorsement of her and gave it to Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris (8th).

“If she wanted a raise, I think she should have come out with that before the primary,” Daley said. “If you think you deserve it, explain it to the voters when you’re a candidate in the primary.”

All three major Chicago-area newspapers endorsed Brown’s other opponent, Chicago attorney Jacob Meister.

Brown’s victory party included a life-size cupcake model of the Circuit Court clerk.

Cupcake display at Dorothy Brown’s victory party in 2016. | Mitchell Armentrout/For the Sun-Times
Cupcake display at Dorothy Brown’s victory party. | Mitchell Armentrout/For the Sun-Times