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Berrios relatives risk injury for right to crowd county payroll

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times
by Dan Mihalopoulos

Joe Berrios believes he’s free to hire whomever, even his dog.

That’s the way a political adviser to Berrios — the Cook County assessor and county Democratic Party chairman — once explained it to me.

That’s why his sister Carmen Berrios was working one evening in April 2007, after normal business hours, at the Cook County Board of Review. That was back when her brother still was one of the tax-appeal board’s three elected commissioners, before he left to successfully run for assessor — bringing his sister and other relatives with him to his new public office, despite county ethics rules barring nepotism hiring.

It was in the line of county duty, Carmen Berrios says, that she “tripped on a floor outlet and landed on the floor,” on her right shoulder.

The County Board quietly approved paying nearly $25,000 a few months ago to settle the worker’s compensation lawsuit that she filed over her accident.

Carmen Berrios ended up with more than $20,000 from the settlement after paying her lawyer in the case, according to state documents obtained by Early & Often, the Chicago Sun-Times political portal.

Add it to her $107,841-a-year salary as the deputy assessor “for tax services and public outreach.” In addition to his sister, Joe Berrios pays son Joseph E. Berrios and daughter Vanessa Berrios also each more than $75,000 a year there now.

They were among 15 immediate Berrios relatives in state or county government who either were on the payroll or recently retired and had begun taking a government pension, as we reported in 2012.

Joe Berrios was defiant then, noting that he wasn’t doing anything that the Irish haven’t done. Since then, he’s continued to fight in court for the right to enjoy daily, quality time with family members at the county administration building, on the taxpayers’ dime.

The county ethics board sued Joe Berrios in March, to get him to at least pay a fine for flouting its ban against nepotism. The case is still pending, court records show.

Likening the situation to President John F. Kennedy’s hiring of his brother Robert as U.S. attorney general, Joe Berrios has said he’s confident nobody could do a better job than his flesh and blood.

Judging by the file from her worker’s comp case, his sister is at least willing to take a broken collarbone for the team.

According to the documents, Carmen Berrios said she was “dropping off paper for a colleague” at 7 p.m. on April 16, 2007, when she tripped over the outlet “that was protruding from the floor” and ended up at the hospital.

She and her immediate supervisor at the time, Thomas Jaconetty, reported that another county employee named Alisa Rodriguez witnessed the accident.

In her report, Rodriguez said she had not seen the accident but was “first made aware” when Carmen Berrios, clutching her arm, told her about it.

Through the assessor’s spokeswoman, Carmen Berrios declined to comment Tuesday. “It was seven years ago, and it’s been resolved,” the spokeswoman said.

There’s no way to know whether Carmen Berrios would have been entitled to and had received the settlement if she were another public employee without such family ties as hers.

But we do know that employees with clout have claimed workplace injury at a higher rate than other, non-clouted public servants, as my Sun-Times colleagues have shown in the past.

We also know Carmen Berrios wouldn’t have been injured at the county Board of Review if she hadn’t been working at a taxpayer-funded agency led by her brother in the first place.

At least we don’t have to worry about any county assessor employees being bitten by the Berrios family dog — yet.



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