|Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas|
The Better Government Association wasn’t on the invite list, but after learning from a tipster there would be a wedding last Tuesday afternoon during work hours at the Loop office of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, the BGA decided to crash it.
Sure enough, when the BGA arrived there at 4:30 p.m., the County Building office was decorated for a wedding. There were wedding bells; streamers; flowers; a white runway for the bride to make her entrance; and cake, of course. Assembled were more than 30 onlookers, including a number of employees of the public agency.
And standing just outside of the office greeting the bride was Pappas herself wearing a nametag that read “Mother of the Bride.” Moments later, Pappas’ communications chief, Bob Benjamin, escorted the bride down the runway and handed her off to the groom.
For Pappas, this peculiar scene was just the latest in a string of questionable uses of the treasurer’s office and its employees.
In 2011, the BGA and CBS2 Chicago raised numerous questions about how Pappas spends taxpayer dollars and documented how some Pappas employees performed duties unrelated to their job descriptions while on county time. One $94,000-a-year staffer chauffeured Pappas to yoga classes and delivered clothes to her home. Another pair of highly paid employees planned parties that Pappas hosted to celebrate ethnic holidays; they looked like a good time but had little to do with the office’s functions of explaining property taxes and collecting payments from taxpayers. Soon afterwards, Pappas laid off the employees who planned the parties and made other changes. The BGA also found that, while she was a Cook County commissioner, Pappas claimed tax breaks on three properties she owned but only one was allowed.
In this most recent instance, while the wedding ceremony took just five minutes to complete, it’s clear treasurer’s office workers had been preparing for the event since earlier in the day. In addition, one employee videotaped the ceremony and another employee took photographs. The ceremony was officiated by a former treasurer’s office staffer, Cook County Judge Dan Degnan.
Pappas wouldn’t say how much the ceremony cost and who paid for the decorations and cake. She also wouldn’t say why she decided to host the ceremony in her office on county time and enlist the aid of her public-sector employees to set the scene. Also unclear is why a man – apparently a Pappas employee – tried to shoo away a BGA representative before realizing his identity, saying the computers weren’t working even though they were. (This occurred shortly before 4:30 p.m.; the office is open until 5 p.m.)
Pappas would only say she’d met the bride several months earlier when the bride was going through a difficult time. “I felt sorry for her and wanted to do something nice for her,” Pappas said.
The BGA and CBS2 have since learned that the bride is a local yoga instructor. Pappas is a yoga enthusiast. Neither Pappas nor Benjamin, however, would respond to numerous attempts to learn more details about the wedding’s cost and Pappas’ connection to the bride.
But apparently, the expense was not covered by Pappas’ campaign fund. The BGA spoke with her campaign treasurer, and he said he was unfamiliar with the wedding.
After the ceremony, Pappas addressed the crowd explaining why she hosted the wedding. “Their parents couldn’t be here, so I thought it was appropriate,” Pappas said. “You know sometimes when the economics don’t work out for the parents to be able to be here, I thought it was important to create a family.”
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Alden Loury and CBS2’s Pam Zekman. They can be reached at (312) 821-9036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.