Mihalopoulos: Ask not what Berrios clan can do for your county…
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Times are tough for many in the workforce today, even government employees.
Not so much for the public servants who are family members of Cook County Assessor and Democratic boss Joe “JFK” Berrios.
The assessor’s office gave a promotion — and a 31 percent pay raise — to daughter Vanessa Berrios last month, according to county records.
As manager of industrial/commercial valuations, Vanessa Berrios was making a little more than $80,000 a year. Her annual salary increased to $105,000, when she was promoted to director of industrial/commercial valuations on May 15.
The promotion from manager to director, and the resulting $25,000 salary bump, came not so long after Joe Berrios had loaned Vanessa Berrios $215,000 for a house she got from her sister, Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios.
You may remember Toni Berrios. She was the state representative who barely surfaced in public while supposedly campaigning for re-election and wound up losing her seat to progressive rising star Will Guzzardi.
Defying cynics’ predictions, Toni Berrios was not given a soft landing spot at the assessor’s office. She now works with her father as a lobbyist in Springfield, according to state records.
You still might see that as making a living that’s dependent on who her daddy is. Well, at least taxpayers are not paying Toni Berrios’ salary any longer.
The same can’t be said for most close family members. A dozen Joe Berrios relatives are government employees or get public pensions.
Besides Vanessa, son Joey Berrios also serves pops in the assessor’s office. Four siblings, two nephews, a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law are working in county or state government. The other two Joe Berrios siblings retired in the past few years and are collecting pensions.
The salary and pension checks to members of the Berrios family total nearly $1.1 million a year.
The county ethics board failed in its legal efforts to curtail nepotism in Berrios’ office. And Boss Berrios clearly doesn’t care if you feel what he’s doing is wrong.
He once said he’s just following in the footsteps of President John F. Kennedy, noting how JFK appointed brother Robert F. Kennedy as his attorney general.
Now 37 years old, Vanessa Berrios began working in the assessor’s office in 1999. Her dad was not the assessor then, but she rose through the ranks as soon as he was elected to the job.
Vanessa Berrios was promoted on the very day her father took office in December 2010. The promotion that time came with a pay hike of roughly $10,000, or 17 percent.
She’d filed for bankruptcy five days before dad became her boss and she got the raise.
Then, Joe Berrios gave Vanessa Berrios the $215,000 loan last August, according to county land records.
The spokesman for the assessor’s office, Tom Shaer, said Joe Berrios recused himself from the decision on filling the opening for director of industrial/commercial valuations and the call was actually made by three aides.
They somehow decided Vanessa Berrios was the most qualified for the job.
Shaer also said it would be “wholly unfair” for me to mention the loan from her dad last year in the paper.
“Where she chooses to get her mortgage is her business,” Shaer said.
Shaer suggested not promoting her would have been punishment for her lineage: “It would be patently unfair to exclude a highly capable candidate because of her last name.”
I can’t say whether Vanessa Berrios is RFK to her dad’s JFK. Perhaps she’s truly great at her new job, better than anybody else the county could have found.
Nor can we prove the loan from Joe Berrios had anything to do with the big pay hike.
But if someone gave you a $25,000-a-year raise, you’d probably be in a lot better shape to pay back any loans you received.
And with an extra 31 percent in your paycheck, you’d also have to worry a lot less about the recent 1 percent hike in the sales tax you pay to Camelot — I mean, Cook County.