Berrios’ patronage hiring under fire, again

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Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios isn’t taking attempts to end patronage hiring abuses in his office seriously and should face court sanctions, a court-appointed monitor says.

The old school Berrios — who has repeatedly come under fire for having 15 relatives  with well-paid government positions or pensions — has at every step taken only “the minimum steps necessary” to placate a judge and sees ending Shakman decree violations as “not a priority,” monitor Clifford Beachem wrote in court papers filed Thursday.

“The general impression of employees in the office was that employment actions were based on nepotism, favoritism or politics,” Beachem wrote.

While the City of Chicago, the Cook County Sheriff and the Cook County Forest Preserve District have all made great strides to end Shakman violations, Berrios’ office has failed to establish a professional human resources department, the filing argues.

Employment decisions there were made by an “opaque process that appeared to include only the Deputy of HR and the Assessor himself” and staff had no written policies to follow, Beacham added.

Berrios hired a director of compliance in July 2013, but she has been brushed off at every turn, it’s alleged. She was excluded from meetings at which hiring decisions were discussed and her “attempts to engage the assessor were unsuccessful,” before she was ultimately fired, Beachem wrote.

Forcing Berrios to change is complicated by the fact that he has disputed that he is subject to oversight by the Office of the Independent Inspector General and by the Cook County Board of Ethics — an argument he’s continuing to make all the way to the Illinois Appeals Court.

But Beachem is urging a federal judge to force Berrios to hire a “qualified professional” to run his human resources department. Beachem also wants Berrios to adopt written hiring policies — and to show up regularly in court in person to explain the steps he’s taking to end inappropriate patronage hiring.

Berrios’ office did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Thursday evening. But Berrios has in the past compared his decision to hire relatives to President John F. Kennedy appointing his brother as U.S. Attorney General, saying he prefers to work with colleagues he knows he can trust.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of family members Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios employs.

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