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Salaries rise at PBC while image falls

Friday, June 29, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Analysis by The Better Government Association

The Public Building Commission has been under fire recently, with news articles raising the specter of minority-contracting fraud, and portraying the agency’s inspector general as a politicized do-nothing.

Now comes word the PBC — which oversees construction for government agencies affiliated with the City of Chicago and Cook County — gave 22 employees pay raises totaling about $168,000over the past few months, according to documents obtained by the BGA.

Half of the 22 workers kept the same job titles.

The PBC — overseen by the Chicago mayor and Cook County Board president — insists the raises were given to compensate folks for picking up slack for departing employees.

“PBC has lost 14 staff members in the last 10 months, and their respective responsibilities have been picked up by the remaining staff,” Lori Lypson, the PBC’s chief operating officer, wrote in an email. “It is important to note that the PBC has only hired one staff person since 2011.”

But while the PBC seems to be saying it deserves a pat on the back, we recall a Crain’s Chicago Business story last month that was less flattering: It suggested the agency has allowed companies to circumvent minority-contracting requirements.

A Chicago Sun-Times article around the same time noted the PBC’s inspector general was a “friend” of ex-Mayor Richard M. Daley, who inserted her into that job as part of a “power play” to block Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson from snooping. The IG at the PBC has done little since.

By the way, the raises ranged from an extra $775 a year to a whopping $31,400 a year.

Did Berrios skip Ethics 101?

We elect public officials, and pay them with our hard-earned tax dollars, so they can serve us — the public — not themselves and their families.

That’s why nepotism — the hiring of one’s relatives — is unethical. For one thing it enriches the public official indirectly by funneling our tax dollars to his or her family members. And it’s also unfair because it deprives other taxpayers without family ties of jobs they may be more qualified for.

The Cook County ethics board understands that, and they found Assessor Joe Berrios in violation of the county’s code of ethics. They also fined Berrios.

Berrios says his son and sister do a good job and that he, as an elected official, isn’t subject to the ethics code. He bases that claim on an opinion issued by the Cook County state’s attorney in the 1990s.

That may be the case, but this is still a perfect time for the current state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, to revisit the issue, even though she’s a political ally of Berrios. And it’s also a perfect time for Berrios to do the right thing by removing his relatives from the assessor’s payroll. We don’t expect him to follow our advice — he’s been pooh-poohing the BGA for years. But Joe: Maybe, just maybe, we’re right on this one.

Turning the key

The Chicago city clerk’s office keeps tabs on which aldermen introduce “key” legislation, defined by the agency as dealing with impactful topics such as “appointments, municipal code amendments, TIF initiatives, settlement orders, redevelopment project agreements . . .”

Of course, introducing key legislation and passing key legislation are two different things.

What’s more, a “key” piece of legislation to one person might be a crummy piece of legislation to someone else.

So we’re not here to hammer somebody simply based on the clerk’s data. But it does provide a curious glimpse of the sausage making by the city’s elected leaders.

Here’s what we found: Aldermen Marty Quinn (13th) and Latasha Thomas (17th) haven’t introduced any key legislation since the current City Council took office in May 2011.

Aldermen Sandi Jackson (7th), Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), Mary O’Connor (41st) and James Cappleman (46th) have introduced one piece of key legislation since then.

We reached most of the aldermen mentioned above, and they generally echoed the same thing: They’re not going to sponsor a measure just to improve their stats, and are heavily focused on constituent issues.

That’s their definition of “key.”

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