CHICAGO — A waste of taxpayers’ money.
That’s how former employees are describing jobs and office activities in the Cook Country Treasurer’s Office. 2 Investigator Pam Zekman and the Better Government Association continue their investigation into how Treasurer Maria Pappas spends your tax dollars.
Pappas once ran her office from a beautiful desk and credenza in her private office. But they were replaced with custom-ordered furniture costing $23,034.
The furniture was part of a much larger redecorating job overseen by high-end interior designer John P. Regas. He was paid an additional $27,000 for his interior design work throughout the treasurer’s office.
Pappas declined to show off the replacement furniture in her office. Regas did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
The furniture expense is the latest questionable use of taxpayer funds in the treasurer’s office.
CBS2 and the Better Government Association previously disclosed that Pappas hired Teresa Kawa, her personal cleaning lady, to also clean her office. Kawa was budgeted as a $57,347-a-year administrative analyst.
Also, Emmanuel Hatzisavas, who is budgeted as a $94,000 project leader for the treasurer, worked as her driver. One day, he spent hours waiting for her to finish a yoga class at the East Bank Club. Pappas says she felt safer having him drive her around.
Also raising question were regular events Pappas hosted as part of the Treasurer’s Outreach Program, or TOPS. The parties celebrated various ethnic holidays and events and featured awards presentations, entertainment and food.
Since a report on those activities aired, many former employees have contacted CBS 2 saying they were pressured to work the parties on county time.
“The parties were really campaign events to get herself known in the ethnic communities around Chicago,” one ex-worker said.
They were assigned to greet and register guests, taking down their names and contact information. Some were assigned to take photographs of guests with Pappas, which Pappas would later autograph and send to them. Still others would be forced to serve drinks or food.
Pappas denied the allegations.
“Nobody is forced to do anything,” she said.
The parties were planned by Hazel Barr, listed on the Treasurer’s budget as an assistant county treasurer earning $95,382, and Patricia Michalski, identified as chief of government and community affairs and earning more than $96,374.
“There was a waste of tax dollars to do an excessive amount of entertaining for an office that’s involved in taxes,” said Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association.
Pappas defiantly said she would not be influenced by media attention.
“Channel 2 or the Better Government Association are not going to tell me how to run my office,” she told Zekman.
But Pappas has terminated Barr and Michalski and the office’s outreach program, saying “budgetary pressures compel it.”
Pappas credited the TOPS program with helping her office put information in 22 languages on its website on how to pay property taxes.
Pappas also said Kawa would no longer do housework at her home, for which Pappas paid her $4,500 a year, to “avoid the appearance of impropriety.” Kawa will continue to work cleaning the treasurer’s offices.
Hatzisavas, the treasurer said, will no longer drive for her. Now he will work as a supervisor in her office assigned to duties commensurate with his pay.
The joint reports between CBS 2 and BGA have exposed $343,181 in questionable salaries within the treasurer’s officer.
Pappas says she’ll pay for an independent auditor to make sure employee job titles fit the work they do. Praising that move is the county board president, who urged other department heads to do the same.