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Most need not apply: Ad tailored for 1 specific hire
ASSESSOR | Former deputy took buyout, gets $58K as consultant

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

When Cook County Assessor James Houlihan went looking for a consultant for his office, the specifications were clear.

"The consultant must have served at least three years as a Chief Deputy Assessor to the Cook County Assessor," the advertisement read, "and must have been in charge of the automation project."

Just days earlier, Houlihan's chief deputy, Kevin Burden, took a lucrative buyout and left the county payroll.

Burden just happened to have worked at least three years in that job and had been in charge of the automation project. Since November, he worked through a $21,000 contract and is now on a $37,000 contract, which also can be extended.

Burden, who made $133,000 while on the payroll, continues to work in the office, with his own desk and phone line -- and he's been replaced on Houlihan's payroll. One other person applied to be Houlihan's consultant, records show, but only Burden met the exact specifications.

Houlihan spokesman Lucio Guerrero said Houlihan made the specifications clear in his November request for a consultant because the county was in the throes of a budget battle and faced job cuts, and Houlihan needed Burden's expertise.

Now that the crisis has passed, Houlihan says he continues to need Burden's expertise and has him working on multiple projects.

"Nobody else worked with a budget the way Kevin had in the last four or five years, so we needed him at that time for that continuity," said Guerrero, who added that Burden had budget insights "only a former chief deputy, who knows the intricacies of the office so well, would be qualified to know."

"Now, he's spearheading other efforts for us," he said, pointing to several specific projects.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's ethics office said there's nothing in the county ethics ordinance that prohibits Burden from making such a quick move from employee to consultant, nor is there anything wrong with Houlihan writing such a specific request for a consultant.

But it comes on the heels of a similar ad by Recorder Gene Moore designed to get a former employee consulting work, and criticism from outside groups, including the Better Government Association, that such opportunities should be opened to more potential candidates.

Burden left the payroll in October via a buyout program in which he waives his pension later. His job went unfilled until this month, when Mike Stone became Houlihan's new chief deputy, making about $130,000.

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