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After giving to Dorothy Brown's campaign, staffers get promotions

Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times
by Brian Slodysko

Several employees of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown were recently given big promotions — a reward for their years of loyalty and hard work, according to Brown’s office.

As it turns out, most of those employees haven’t just shown loyalty in the workplace, campaign finance records show.

Four of five employees who were promoted last December — promotions that come with pay bumps between $12,000 and $18,000 a year — have donated a total of $3,853 to the Friends of Dorothy Brown campaign fund, records show.

The practice is not illegal. In fact, donating campaign cash to your boss is a form of constitutionally protected speech and used to be common in Illinois. Brown herself stopped accepting donations from employees at the end of 2012, several months after being elected to her fourth term.

But some Cook County commissioners say past contributions from employees getting big salary boosts lead to uncomfortable questions.

“What could be an innocent expression of free speech certainly gets colored in a bad way when it appears there could be a quid pro quo,” said Commissioner Pete Silvestri, a Republican from Elmwood Park, when asked about the raises. “How can you tell it’s not? That’s the problem.”

During a recent Cook County Board meeting, another commissioner critical of the raises, Bridget Gainer, said: “It’s not like they are breaking the law, but it’s the type of thing that makes people crazy about government.”

Most of the donations were less than $1,000, records show — not a lot when compared with large cash infusions in high-profile races.

For example, Angela D. Robinson — whose $17,000-a-year promotion to assistant chief deputy clerk bumped her salary up to about $86,000 a year — only donated $200 in 2012.

Similarly, Samuel J. Williams — who was promoted to chief deputy clerk, raising his yearly pay about $18,000, to roughly $97,000 a year — donated about $508 between 2009 and 2012.

Ellie M. Marszewski — whose salary was hiked $13,000 to roughly $86,000 a year — donated $450 between 2011 and 2012.

Another employee, Sherrie A. Kolodziej — whose pay increased by about $12,000 a year — did not donate. But records show her husband James did — $2,695 since 2000.

But regardless of the dollar amount, the donations could cause others to question whether the employees were given preferred treatment, Silvestri said.

Reached by phone, Kolodziej said her household donated to Brown’s campaign fund because she supports Brown. She declined to comment further. The other employees could not be reached for comment.

When a Sun-Times reporter asked questions about the raises, Brown’s office blasted the paper in a news release, stating it appears the paper is attempting “to malign the careers of several long-term exceedingly qualified employees.”

And in an emailed statement to the paper, Brown spokeswoman Jalyne R. Strong added: “[T]here is no connection between the job promotions and Clerk Brown’s campaign fund.”

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