Monday, April 20, 2009

County commissioners call for state and federal probe of Dunnings’ controversy

Fearing that the county’s funds may have been abused, Cook County Commissioner Lawrence "Larry" Suffredin (D-13th District) called on the U.S. Attorney to investigate the circumstances surrounding the firing of Cook County Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings.

Dunnings was forced to resign late Thursday night last week from her position as Cook County’s CFO by her cousin, County Board President Todd Stroger. It came in the wake of questionable dealings Dunnings had with another fired county employee, Tony Cole. A busboy working at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in River North, Cole was hired by Stroger when Stroger met him while having diner there. Cole had been arrested on domestic violence charges involving an ex-girl friend and was bailed out several times by Dunning who used undisclosed credit cards to pay the court bails.

“I am concerned about how much money might be missing. I don’t know that there is any. I have discovered over the weekend that one of these PR people Stroger hired was with Ms. Dunnings when she bailed out this individual Cole from the County Jail. She used a credit card,” said Suffredin during an interview Monday on WJJG 1530 AM’s “Radio Chicagoland.”

“We don’t know if it was a county credit card. We don’t know if it was reimbursed by the county. I am going to make a demand on the president and the state’s attorney, the U.S. Attorney and the inspector general that there is an accounting of all the funds. If this were a small corporation, and at 1:30 in the morning the CEO accepts the resignation of the CFO, there would be an emergency meeting the next day.”

Suffredin Friday called on Stroger to resign. He said new details demand careful scrutiny to insure that Dunnings had no abused her powers to come to Cole’s aid. Stroger said he expected Cole to make “explosive” charges against Dunnings.

“It’s outrageous,” Suffredin said. “This is a person who as the Chief Financial officer has access to all of the county’s money. When Stroger uses the word ‘explosive’ it moves it from a personal indiscretion to a public indiscretion.”

Suffredin said he fears “There are some real issues involving the credit cards that Dunnings may have used. … We have no transparency. We have this bizarre activity at 1:30 in the morning on Friday Todd Stroger calls the Chicago tribune City Desk to announce he has requested and received the resignation of the Chief Financial officer, who happens to be his cousin. The CFO of a government that is the 19th largest government in the United States.”

Clearly Stroger was being vindictive trying to punish the Chicago Sun-Times which was digging into the Dunnings scandal and was preparing to break details on Dunning’s relationship with Cole.

Suffredin pointed out that after announcing it in the middle of the night, and then 15 hours later informing members of the county board, he departed for a personal vacation.

“I am speaking with board members. We do have provisions for special meetings. Our next meeting is May 5th,” Suffredin said, noting the county lacks re-call provisions.

Suffredin said the bond rating companies will probably downgrade the county’s bonds increasing interest rates on the county’s massive outstanding debts, which would increase the need for more taxes.

“The citizens need to be outraged over his lack of candor on this and his refusal to answer questions,” Suffredin said.

Suffredin said there are two separate individuals involving employees who were in trouble, including Cole, who Dunnings has helped and may have used the power of her office.

Suffredin said Stroger has refused to be accountable, refused to answer questions and refuses to properly lead the county.

No one in Stroger’s office would return repeated phone calls for a comment Monday.

-- Ray Hanania

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