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Cook County commissioners vote down $37,000 photography contract for embattled court clerk

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County commissioners on Wednesday voted down spending an additional $37,000 on a photographer for Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, the latest sign that the embattled veteran politician is not on the best of terms with her colleagues.

Brown has had a contract with Good Photo of Chicago since the board approved it in October 2012, costing $74,000 so far. Brown's chief of staff asked to extend it for an additional year.

Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, led the charge against the contract extension.

"Even though it's only a contract for photographic services, I cannot support us repeatedly asking taxpayers to tighten their belts without doing the same as a government," Fritchey said Wednesday, as the county also was scheduled to vote on a $4.5 billion spending plan for 2016 that includes more than $512 million in new taxes and fees. "We already have a county pool photographer. For an elected official to continue to ask for their own is never in order, but especially not these days."

The vote was 16-0 against the contract, with Commissioner Joan Murphy, D-Crestwood, voting present.

Last month, the Cook County Democratic Party withdrew its endorsement of Brown for re-election to a fifth term and instead endorsed Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th.

That change of heart among party leaders came after an FBI agent armed with a grand jury subpoena confiscated Brown's phone.

Sources have told the Tribune the federal investigation involves the sale of a North Lawndale building owned by Narendra Patel, a longtime campaign donor to Brown.

Patel, who is now deceased, gave the property on South Pulaski Road to Brown's husband, Benton Cook III, at no cost in June 2011, records show. Within months, Cook put the property in the couple's name, then transferred it to a for-profit company.

The couple then sold the run-down building for $100,000. Neither Brown nor her husband has been charged with wrongdoing.

Fritchey said his opposition to the contract extension was not politically motivated. "My position would be the same regardless of who brought this forward. That being said, it's telling that the only official who in fact did bring this forward was Dorothy Brown," he said.

A Brown spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment.

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