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Cook County official had his half-brother on agency’s payroll

Monday, August 20, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr., a self-proclaimed reformer, until recently had employed his half-brother for years at the agency that rules on property-tax appeals, records show.

Rogers’ half-brother, Frederic Everly, resigned a month ago from his $61,139.52-a-year job as an administrative assistant with the Board of Review.

That was after the county ethics board accused Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios of violating the county’s ethics ordinance by hiring two family members — his son and sister — soon after winning election in 2010. The ethics board ordered Berrios to pay a $10,000 fine and to remove his relatives from the assessor’s office payroll — penalties Berrios has ignored, saying the ordinance doesn’t apply to him.

The ordinance says county officials who hold any supervisory position can’t “employ or advocate for employment” a relative. The rules specifically say half-brothers and half-sisters are covered by that restriction.

Rogers, 44, and Everly, 27, have different fathers but the same mother, records show.

Everly started as a full-time employee at the Board of Review in January 2008 with a starting salary of $46,076.16 a year and worked under Rogers, according to county payroll records.

MaryNic Foster, executive director of the county Board of Ethics, says she was unaware that Rogers employed his half-brother. Foster says the county’s ethics rules apply to the Board of Review, as well as to the assessor’s office and other county agencies headed by elected officials in addition to the Cook County Board president.

“The Board of Ethics is clear that Cook County government is not supposed to be a family business,” says Foster. “These may be good employees, but the law, as it stands, prohibits them from working for their relatives.”

After the ethics board issued a “finding of violation” June 20 against Berrios, he shrugged that off, saying the ethics ordinance doesn’t apply to his office. Berrios, who also is the county Democratic Party’s chairman, cited an opinion from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office that the ethics panel doesn’t have authority over him or other independently elected county leaders.

Foster disagrees, saying, “The state’s attorney’s opinion is just an opinion. Unless the ordinance is changed or I am told otherwise by a court, we have to vigorously enforce it.”

The ordinance gives the board the authority to levy fines of as much as $5,000 for each violation of the anti-nepotism rule.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said hiring relatives raises questions about an elected official’s “commitment to competence and good governance.”

Everly resigned from the Board of Review on July 16, according to county personnel records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times through the Freedom of Information Act.

Rogers, who is a personal injury lawyer in addition to holding his $100,000-a-year county post, won’t talk about Everly.

But in a written statement, Rogers defends hiring Everly as well as Joseph Power, whose father is a law partner and political supporter of Rogers.

“I have known Fred and Joe their entire lives, and they are extremely hard workers whose integrity and reputations for honesty are beyond reproach,” Rogers wrote. “That is why they were hired and have excelled in their assignments at the board.”

Rogers, a Democrat, was first elected to the board in 2004. With backing from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), he unseated incumbent Robert Shaw in a close primary race.

Running for a third four-year term on the three-member board, Rogers was unopposed in the March primary, and he faces no Republican challenger in the November general election to retain his seat representing the board’s third district, which covers much of Chicago’s South Side and West Side as well as several south and west suburbs.

Though he faces no opposition, his campaign website urges supporters to send letters to the editors of newspapers and advises them to begin their letters: “From day one as commissioner, Larry demonstrated his commitment to reform.”

Last month, two men who worked for Rogers at the county agency — Thomas D. Hawkins and John W. Racasi, who is Hawkins’ brother — were indicted on federal charges that accuse them of taking bribes to fix property-tax appeals.

Hawkins had been a campaign worker for Rickey Hendon, a former state senator who was an ally and one-time employee of Rogers at the board. Hawkins began working at the board at the same time that Rogers took office, according to county records.

Hawkins suggested his brother for a job at the Board of Review, and Racasi was hired there to work for Rogers in 2006, according to Racasi’s defense lawyer, Heather L. Winslow.

Hawkins and Racasi have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial in November.

“Out of over 200 employees that have worked for the Board of Review on literally hundreds of thousands of appeals during my tenure, two individuals who I did not know and did not meet until shortly before they were hired are alleged to have violated the public’s trust,” Rogers wrote, adding that both men were fired.

Berrios’ son Joseph and sister Carmen also worked on Rogers’ staff at the board before going to work for the assessor’s office, agency records show.

The 31-year-old son and a 24-year-old niece of Rogers’ law partner, Joseph Power Jr., were hired by the board, too.

Eight years ago, Power made a $25,000 loan to Rogers for his first campaign. Rogers has never repaid the loan, according to campaign-finance reports he’s filed with the state.

Power’s son, also named Joseph Power, began work at the board in June 2005 for an annual salary of under $34,000 and has answered to Rogers for most of his seven years at the agency, records show. He has been promoted twice and now makes $82,883.84 a year as an administrative assistant to the commissioner.

The niece, Kathleen Power, whom Rogers calls “a truly reliable employee,” started work for the Board of Review in December 2010 and is a $43,555.20-a-year computer operator.

Joseph Power Jr. says he had never told Rogers to hire anybody.

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