Does Todd Stroger have enough handlers?
Todd Stroger has Mike Quigley upset again. How many dozens of yellow roses will be sent to Mike?
On paper, he works for the Cook County agency that represents those too poor to hire a lawyer.
But in reality, attorney Richard Velazquez is being paid to give legal advice to county board President Todd Stroger.
The move has stunned some county commissioners and some in the public defender's office, but Stroger said Wednesday there's nothing wrong with his decision to place Velazquez in the public defender's budget.
"It's totally inappropriate," Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said. "It makes the budget an illusion, and it's not good government."
Velazquez, an attorney since 2003, is being paid $108,000 a year. He's the poorly prepared staffer that Stroger sent to the media last week to defend financial moves Stroger has made since the county board approved a $3 billion budget.
Stroger has since struggled to answer allegations that more than $20 million has been spent on items other than what the board intended.
Asked about Velazquez's position, new Stroger spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said he was hired to assist Stroger, and there were never any plans to put him in a courtroom. The job is one of hundreds filled at Stroger's discretion, and Antongiorgi said "it's not unusual" for people in such jobs to work on multiple tasks.
Public Defender Ed Burnette, who serves at Stroger's pleasure, said he can't explain why Velazquez is in his budget.
"I know he's not working within the parameters of our office," Burnette said.
Velazquez, who did not return calls, is filling in for Stroger's $123,000-a-year legal adviser, Laura Lechowicz-Felicione, who's splitting her time at the county hospital.
Velazquez's salary is coming from an office where 13 lawyers were recently laid off and 65 to 70 employees are being forced to take unpaid days off, all because of budget cuts.
"They're very short-staffed and extremely overburdened," said Roberta Lynch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents public defenders. "We think it's very inappropriate to be spending money from that office, that's supposed to be defending the indigent, for some other purpose