CHICAGO – Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas is making some big changes after the CBS 2 Investigators and the Better Government Association raised questions about the high salaries paid to her driver, her cleaning lady and now her party planners.
Pappas is proud of the parties she regularly gives in the treasurer’s office to celebrate various ethnic groups and holidays. It’s all part of the Treasurers Outreach Program, or TOPS, which also distributes tax bill information in foreign languages in brochures and on its Website.
“I’ve worked with 87 foreign consulates,” Pappas told CBS 2’s Pam Zekman in an earlier interview. “You should come over there and see some of these functions, these outreach receptions.”
But in CBS 2’s ongoing investigation with the Better Government Association, former employees complain that the events are an improper use of tax dollars for an agency that collects and distributes county property taxes.
“This looks like another example of using people for jobs and tasks and responsibilities that have nothing to do with what they’re budgeted to do,” BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw says.
Former employees say they were required to work the parties and, for example, take photographs of guests with Pappas that she later autographed and sent them. Others were pressured, they said, to work as waiters serve food.
“Nobody is forced to do anything,” Pappas said in response to the claims.
Now CBS 2 and the BGA have also learned that Pappas employs two women to plan the office events.
One of them is Hazel Barr, described in the press as a “longtime party planner.” She is listed on the treasurer’s budget as an assistant treasurer earning $95,382.
Patricia Michalski is listed as chief of government and community affairs, earning $96,375.
Just days after CBS and the BGA inquired about the jobs, Pappas said she is terminating the TOPS program, terminating Barr and Michalski, and transferring two part-time employees to other tasks.
“While I regret ending this valuable program, budgetary pressures compel it,” Pappas said.
She said she plans to use some of the savings “in an effort to reclassify my employees with job titles that more accurately reflect their work.”
Employees such as Emanuel Hatzisavas works as a driver for Pappas but is listed on the treasurers budget as a $94,000-a-year program leader. Pappas previously said she needed Hatzisavas to work as a driver for security reasons. Now he will be reassigned as a supervisor in her operations division.
Pappas said she is still fearful of threats the office has received and is discussing them with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. A spokesman for the sheriff says the agency has offered to provide security training to Pappas’ designated staff member.
Also Friday, Pappas said that Teresa Kawa, who Pappas paid $4,500 a year to clean her condo twice a week, will no longer clean her home “to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” As CBS and the BGA previously disclosed, Pappas also hired Kawa to clean the treasurer offices because she did not trust anyone else to do it.
Kawa is listed in the budget as a $57,000-per-year administrative analyst.
Pappas says job titles for Hatzisavas and Kawa will be changed to reflect their actual duties, as part of her review of every position in her offic
As for all the changes, the BGA’s Shaw says: “Better late than never to do the right thing.”