Investigation Reveals Big Raises for Some Cook County Employees
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
At a time when the average pay raise in the Chicago area is only 2.5%, some employees in CookCounty government are receiving raises of as much as 55%. An investigation by Fox Chicago News found many CookCounty employees have received significant raises over the past year, in spite of pledges by Board President Todd Stroger to trim positions and hold the line on increases.
"Politically, economically, fiscally, this is unsound and this is an insult to the taxpayers," said Illinois Campaign for Political Reform President Cindy Canary.
Most non-union county employees received cost-of-living raises of 7.95% within the past year. That made up for no raises the previous two years. But some employees got a lot more than that, including several assistants in Stroger's office who saw their salaries climb between 13 and 55%.
Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings said those increases are explained by employees moving up the seniority scale and getting job promotions. Dunnings says raises are carefully reviewed, and only given when warranted by job performance. "I think we're trying to be sensitive about trying to drive home accountability within county government," Dunnings said.
Other employees received major boosts in pay after moving into another job. Former Comptroller Joseph Fratto got a 20% raise when he became Stroger's Chief of Staff. Laura Lechowicz-Felicione received a 40% pay hike when she traded in her job as an attorney for the Bureau of Health to become an attorney serving Stroger.
Canary says many of those who got the biggest pay jumps have long ties to the Stroger family. "The same old same olds have all the positions locked up. They're the ones getting the promotions. They're the ones controlling the gates and they are Todd Stroger's inner circle."
Many of the raises took effect with the new fiscal year budget that began on July 1st. That is also when the one cent increase in the county's share of the sales tax kicked in.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin brokered the deal to increase the sales tax. Suffredin says the money was needed to salvage basic county services, and was tied to the creation of a new oversight board that controls the Bureau of Health.
But Suffredin says he's concerned the $420 million tax windfall from the new sales tax is being abused. "I really do believe that many of these raises are not justified," Suffredin said. "They were the largesse of an employer who said, 'Well, I've got extra money to spend.' You still have to spend it responsibly and I don't think they did."
Dunnings says it is important the county offer salaries that are competitive to the private sector. "(We need) to attract the best and the brightest, to address the issues the county faces," Dunnings said. "There is more pressure on government to perform at the same level as the private sector."