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Donna Dunnings 'shocked' when fired by Cook County President Todd Stroger

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mark J. Konkol

Donna Dunnings said she was “shocked” when her cousin, Cook County President Todd Stroger, fired her at 10 p.m. last Thursday over the potential political fallout concerning her dealings with her former secretary, Tony Cole.

In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, Dunnings said she never had a physical relationship with Cole — a busboy with a criminal past whom Stroger hired in October to a county patronage job, promoted to a $61,000-a-year human resources post and fired earlier this month for lying about his criminal past on a job application. Cole also told the Sun-Times after he was fired that he was not involved with Dunnings.

Stroger “felt with all the allegations and things surrounding the whole situation that it would be better for me to step down,” Dunnings said. “I was shocked, but that happens in life. I trusted his judgment and his leadership. I know he would not do anything that was not in my best interest.”

Dunnings said she “loves” Stroger and doesn’t harbor any ill will against him. But he left her in a terrible spot.

Dunnings suffers from multiple sclerosis and is a single mother of two girls — one who has a traumatic brain injury. At the end of the month, Dunnings will be without county health insurance and forced to come up with $1,517-a-month for COBRA coverage without a steady paycheck.

“Am I worried about having health insurance for my kids? There are some concerns there, but no fear,” Dunnings said. “God is going to take care of me.”

While employed by Cook County, Cole was arrested twice for violating an order of protection. Both times, Dunnings bailed Cole out of jail, and once she was accompanied by Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins. Dunnings declined to comment on why Mullins accompanied her. Mullins said Dunnings “asked me to ride with her, so I did.”

Cole also was prone to outbursts at work and was the subject of an inspector general investigation, county sources said. Inspector General Pat Blanchard declined comment.

Despite his arrests and trouble on the job, Cole was promoted to a $61,000-a-year highway department job before being fired two weeks ago for lying about his criminal record on his job application.

Stroger asked for Dunnings resignation on Thursday when he knew the Chicago Sun-Times was poised to reveal Dunnings put $4,000 on credit cards to get Cole out of jail and some county commissioners were planning to take her to task for it.

Since then, Stroger has given different reasons for firing Dunnings from her $175,000-a-year chief financial officer job. At first, Stroger said he expected Cole to make “explosive” allegations against Dunnings that he has refused to elaborate on. Later, Stroger said he was trying to avoid letting certain county commissioners “drag Miss Dunnings through the mud.” On Tuesday, Stroger said Dunnings was planning to leave her post later this year anyway, and the Cole controversy didn’t have anything to do with his asking Dunnings to quit.

Dunnings said Tuesday she was looking for a new job and hoped to find one by July.

She said she doesn’t regret trying to mentor Cole, who she said she took to seek counseling after bailing him out of jail.

“Tony isn’t the only person I tried to help at the county. I regret the situation came about this way, but I don’t regret trying to help him,” Dunnings said. “I try to help people because somebody helped me. My uncle [late County President John Stroger] gave me employment and I’ve had many mentors over the years. I was from Arkansas and he saw something in me and helped develop that.”

Now, Dunnings is ready to move on and find a new job.

“I want people to know that I gave that job and the commissioners and Todd Stroger everything I had,” she said. “I want someone to look at how I performed under my responsibilities in this job. I hope God leads them to give me a chance to prove myself.”

Contributing: Lisa Donovan


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