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Cook County Board of Ethics appoints new chair after previous two ousted amid earlier shakeups
Thursday, September 17, 2020 Chicago Tribune by Alice Yin
The board in charge of enforcing Cook County’s ethics ordinance on Thursday ushered in a new chair, the third to hold the position this year after a series of recent member shake-ups.
Thomas Szromba, currently the longest serving of four members seated on the Cook County Ethics Board, was voted in without opposition to be the panel’s next chair.
“He’s had the most tenure right now, and I think it’s important to maintain consistency with the work that the board is doing,” board member Von Matthews said during a virtual board meeting.
Szromba is principal senior counsel at Boeing, where he has worked for more than a decade. Before that he served stints as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago and as a counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The ethics board enforces the county’s ethics ordinance, which sets rules on how more than 20,000 county employees and officials should conduct themselves. Five unpaid board members are tasked with investigating complaints of ethics ordinance violations, spearheadingaudits, drafting up recommendations and other guidance — although currently only four members are on the board.
Szromba’s appointment came during the board’s first meeting since the pandemic and after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ousted the two previous chairs. Former Chair Margaret “Peggy” Daley left in January after Preckwinkle, who is in charge of appointing and reappointing ethics board members, opted not to renew Daley’s term. That led Daley’s colleague David Grossman to resign in protest.
“As board members' terms were set to expire, we wanted to give other members of the public an opportunity to serve,” Preckwinkle spokesman Nick Shields told the Tribune in August.Daley and Sorensen have said they think otherwise, and wondered whether their attempts to roll out proposed reforms to the ethics ordinance irked Preckwinkle.
The proposed revisions to Cook County’s ethics ordinance, which the ethics board voted to recommend in January, included forbidding nepotism in county hiring and county commissioners from taking certain outside jobs. They also would mandate lobbyists disclose if they have relatives who work for the county, introduce new rules to clamp down on sexual harassment, prohibit the state’s attorney from settling ethics lawsuits without the ethics board’s approval and increase fines for certain ethics violations.
Cook County Board Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, has said he plans to file an amendment to the ethics ordinance during the next Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 24 that will include many of the ethics board’s proposals.
David Orr, former Cook County clerk and founder of the political action committee Good Government Illinois, said Szromba is a “very capable” choice for chair, but he worried about forces outside the ethics board impeding him in his mission.
“Ethics legislation is always a difficult sort of challenge, but the real challenge is political interference," Orr said.
Alice Yin works the overnight shift at the Tribune, responsible for covering whatever breaks. She is a Medill School of Journalism graduate and was a statehouse reporter for the Associated Press in Michigan before being hired last summer by the Sun-Times. Alice likes to explore new restaurants, go jogging and frequent bookshops.