Reporting Pam Zekman
CHICAGO (CBS) — Is she a wedding planner now? We’re talking about Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
Two years ago, CBS 2 and the Better Government Association reported on her penchant for taxpayer funded parties.
Now, we’ve been tipped off again and BGA investigator Alden Loury was there to record the event last Tuesday.
Before the wedding began, Loury identified himself to Pappas and she tried to explain what was going on.
“She was essentially holding the ceremony for someone that she knew,” Loury was told. “She said it was someone that was down on their luck, unable to have their own ceremony.”
The Cook County Treasurer collects and distributes property taxes and and is open for business from 9 to 5 p.m.
But during business hours on May 21, employees set up for the 4:30 p.m. wedding in the County Building downtown. There were decorations that included crepe paper wedding bells and streamers strung around part of the first floor office. A runner for the bride to walk down, wedding cake and coffee to be served later.
Pappas’ Communications Chief gave the bride away. Another Pappas employee videotaped the ceremony, conducted by a former top aide of Pappas who’s now a judge
Pappas wore a badge saying “mother of the bride.” After the ceremony, as she stood next to the bride, Pappas explained to her staff why she gathered them for the wedding.
“Sometimes when the economics don’t work out for the parents to be able to be here,” Pappas said. “I thought it was important to create a family.”
What’s wrong with all this?
“It’s not the space for a wedding and certainly not during working hours when people of this office are supposed to be doing their jobs serving the taxpayers of Cook County,” said the BGA’s investigator.
This is not the first time that Treasurer Pappas has used her office and staff to throw a party.
Two years ago we reported on other parties Pappas regularly held parties as part of what she said was her outreach program to the city’s ethnic communities. Back then employees of the Treasurer told us they were pressured to set up the food, take photos of the guests, and work at or attend the events–— all on county time.
“Nobody is forced to do anything,” Pappas said at the time.
She also said, “Channel 2 and the Better Government Association is not going to tell me how to run my office.”
But after our reports Pappas stopped the parties and laid off her two $90,000 a year employees who helped plan the events.
Now the wedding has renewed taxpayers’ questions.
“I think it’s terrible,” said Mark Micula after he left Pappas office yesterday. “I think its unfortunate that there’s no one overseeing this.”
“It doesn’t look right,” said Attorney Ranj Mohip, who was at the Treasurer’s office in behalf of a client. “It doesn’t smell right. And they shouldn’t be doing it.”
We reached out to Pappas several times but got no response to our questions about her connection to the bride and groom, how much the wedding cost the public, and how she justifies using her government office and her staff to host it.