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updated: 2/8/2011 2:39 PM

BGA, Berrios escalate clash

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Cook County Board of Review Commissioner and Democratic assessor candidate Joseph Berrios and the Better Government Association are escalating their ongoing conflict - and it's not just a war of words anymore.

After Berrios charged the BGA last week with being "a vehicle to fund propaganda campaigns" for Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, an independent assessor candidate, he followed that by filing a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service over the BGA's tax-exempt status.

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The BGA lashed back by lumping Berrios in with "a rogues gallery of distinguished critics like Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan and Dan Walker."

"This is never about partisan politics. It's always about better government," said David Lundy, president of the BGA board of directors, in response to Berrios' complaint to the IRS.

The clash began with a BGA report that laid out campaign contributions Berrios, who is also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, received from property-tax attorneys arguing assessment appeals before him on the Board of Review.

Berrios accused the BGA of issuing "one-sided reports" and favoring Claypool and called on BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw, a former WLS-TV Channel 7 political reporter, to step down. In filing the IRS complaint, he said the BGA "has crossed the line in their biased reports." While the BGA is forbidden to endorse candidates as a particular kind of nonprofit agency, Berrios pointed to how the BGA and Claypool share top donors and how six BGA board members are also Claypool contributors.

Republican Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall and Robert Grota of the Green Party are also running for assessor.

As if to answer whether Berrios' actions would have a chilling effect on its investigations, the BGA Tuesday hired three top reporters, including Bob Reed, a former Crain's Chicago Business writer and most recently Gov. Quinn's press secretary, and John Conroy, a longtime Chicago Reader staffer who led the way probing torture charges against former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, recently convicted on federal perjury charges. Also hired as investigative editor was Bob Herguth, who served as the BGA's interim director of investigations over the summer and is a former Daily Herald writer.

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