Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios maintains he's done nothing wrong and observed the Shakman Decree on political hiring in largely overhauling the personnel in his new office.
Confirming that Shakman attorneys have raised objections about as many as 27 hirings and firings, a Berrios spokeswoman said the newly elected assessor feels "very confident" the personnel moves have been legal and aboveboard.
"The assessor worked very closely with the state's attorney's office and the Cook County Human Resources Department to determine which positions were exempt," said Berrios spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. "The HR department traced all positions from 1995 through 2010 -- and, while some titles may have changed over the years, they remained exempt."
Berrios acknowledged firing 13 workers left from the staff of his predecessor, James Houlihan, but said the positions were exempt from the Shakman Decree. "If any titles should have changed with court approval before Assessor Berrios being sworn in, it should have been done by Jim Houlihan," Quinn added.
Although both Chicago Democrats, Houlihan and Berrios were ferocious political rivals when Houlihan was assessor and Berrios was overseeing his assessments at the Board of Review. Berrios replaced the retiring Houlihan by winning the general election in November.
Berrios has been unapologetic about hiring his sister and son in the assessor's office, pointing to their experience working for him at the Board of Review.
But the hires are under investigation by MaryNic Foster, executive director of the Cook County Board of Ethics, for possibly violating county policy on nepotism.
The Shakman suit goes back more than 40 years and has resulted in hiring decrees imposed against the county, the city of Chicago and the Cook County Democratic Committee.