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Stroger's cousin gets 12% hike
COOK COUNTY | Took CFO post last year for lower pay -- that was then

Monday, March 24, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

When Cook County Board President Todd Stroger introduced his cousin Donna Dunnings as the county's new chief financial officer last year, they each boasted of the savings taxpayers would realize. She would take a salary far less than the previous CFO.

That was then.

Records show Dunnings is set to get a bigger raise than any other county employee in Stroger's budget -- a 12 percent increase -- as part of the 2008 budget.

The average county raise is about 5 percent for most employees, records show. Those working in Dunnings' office will get, on average 3.5 percent raises.

Dunnings will make nearly $160,000 with the pay increase -- about $5,000 more than Tom Glaser did in the job. Dunnings, the county's former budget director who previously worked for the assessor's office, currently makes $142,000.

Dunnings' double-digit jump is because "she's doing twice the work she was before and has more responsibilities," said Stroger spokesman Gene Mullins.

"She only took [less pay] when we didn't have any money," he said, referring to the just-passed 1 percentage point sales tax increase that is so substantial, it will ultimately give county government more money than it needs to operate.

In fighting for that tax, Stroger repeatedly asked taxpayers and commissioners to make sacrifices for the good of county government.

Stroger spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi later said Dunnings initially took the lower salary "because of her commitment to the county and public service."

Since then, however, Dunnings' performance "warranted" the large raise, Antongiorgi said, and brings her more in line with other county CFOs.

But a government watchdog group said it smacks of arrogance.

"It sends the message that taxpayers have to make sacrifices and President Stroger's friends, family and supporters get special treatment," said Jay Stewart, of the Better Government Association. "It is a classic example of how Cook County politicians look at the world -- one set of rules for the outsiders and a different, more favorable set of rules for the insiders."

Jarese Wilson, who took Dunnings' spot as budget director last year, isn't getting a raise this year, but budget records show some other county employees are in line for a hefty payday.

Stroger's purchasing agent, Carmen Triche-Colvin -- wife of his best friend -- also is set for a double-digit raise, as she now makes $116,000 and the 2008 budget shows she is to be paid $133,079.

But she won't be taking that extra money, Antongiorgi said, though Stroger is reserving the right to give her a raise later.

Several top-paid county employees aren't going to take the full amount the budget shows they are to be paid, either, she said, adding that "the extra money is used for other budgetary purposes."

Stroger's willingness to spend more and hire by the hundreds flies in the face of recent comments by Mayor Daley, who said his city government is tightening its belt and freezing hiring because of poor economic conditions.

Just last year, county government laid off hundreds, and Antongiorgi said county policy says those people are generally entitled to fill new jobs before any outsiders -- something those laid off say isn't happening yet.

Several of the new jobs, Antongiorgi said, are court-mandated, while others were recommended to help county hospitals operate better. But plenty of those jobs weren't required, including new positions for the commissioners who passed Stroger's budget.

Antongiorgi defended the addition of jobs and spending, pointing out the county has long held the line on property tax increases -- though critics point to a long history of the county raising other taxes instead, while Stroger's Forest Preserve District annually increases property taxes.

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