Stroger defends decision to hire cousin as CFO

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is defending his decision to hire his cousin to fill an important job in his administration.

President Todd Stroger says Cook County residents are getting a bargain. His cousin won't take a pay raise. And, he says, regardless of her lineage, Donna Dunnings is the perfect person to become the chief financial officer of Cook County.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger knew he'd take heat for promoting a relative, but he did it anyway. Stroger's cousin is the most qualified person to be CFO of Cook County, Stroger said.

"I don't care what her name is, what her bloodline is, she has great credentials," Stroger said.

Todd Stroger's father named his niece budget director in 2004. Before that, Donna Dunnings worked in other areas of county government. She has an MBA from Kellogg and says she was near the top of her class as an undergrad at the University of Arkansas.

"I am qualified for this job. There will always be critics. My mother told me Jesus walked on earth and he had critics," said Donna Dunnings, Cook County chief financial officer.

Critics on the Cook County Board point out that . Dunnings was the budget director when the county's finances began their freefall, leading up to the current half-a-billion dollar budget deficit.

"This type of nepotism is typical of Todd Stroger. We've seen him appoint family members, his best friend's wife to one of the most important positions in government. This is typical. This is business as usual," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool.

To make way for Dunning's promotion, Stroger is sliding his current chief finance officer into a newly created position.

The CFO will become the chief operating officer of the Bureau of Health and get a $71,000 a year raise. Dunnings will keep her current salary of just over $142,000.

"He's got six-figure jobs he's handing out to friends and cronies at the same time he's laying off nurses, doctors and police. I think that's what's scandalous," said Claypool.

As for saving money through job cuts, Stroger insists he is doing his part. ABC7 has learned the board president has requested and received the resignations of several top-level managers, including Cook County's director of special events. Stroger says he will stick with pledge not to raise taxes, but Tuesday he did say he may support some "fee" increases.

The board's finance committee recommended auditing all 26,000 county jobs, essentially assessing every position, justifying it as well as the qualifications of the person who holds it.

"When I started I was told when I get to here, people are where they belong in the budget," said Mike Quigley, Cook County commissioner.

ABC7 asked several commissioners how much bloat they believe exists in Cook County government?

"Approximately between 5,7 or 8 percent," said Roberto Maldonado, Cook County commissioner.

"I'd probably triple that," said Claypool.

Depsite the dire financial picture, Todd Stroger reaffirmed Tuesday his intention not to support a tax increase. Although, he did say he would support increasing fees paid by those who visit off-track-betting parlors, and he won't rule out other fee increases.

The county will have to get its budget balanced by the end of the month.

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