Chicago Sun-Times Investigative Reporting Into Cook County Land Bank: Cook County agency that’s under two reviews gave big bonuses to $225,750-a-year boss

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“A Cook County agency now under two separate reviews over insider dealings gave its $225,750-a-year executive director a $45,000 performance bonus last year — and plans to give him another for the same amount this year.

“Since Robert Rose Jr. was hired in 2015 to run the Cook County Land Bank Authority, he has been paid more than $1.1 million — including $107,500 in bonuses, records show. Rose was given those bonuses under the terms of employment contracts signed by Bridget Gainer, the elected Cook County Board member who, with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, founded the land bank and chairs its board of directors. The extra payouts were for meeting specific performance goals that Rose set for himself. But Gainer and other land bank officials won’t provide documents to show what Rose did to merit the additional tens of thousands of dollars a year he’s been paid. Nor will they explain why they gave him bigger bonuses than his contract calls for.

“The two reviews that the Land Bank now faces began after the Chicago Sun-Times reported in November that the agency had made a deal with Chester Wilson, chief of staff to Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), to take ownership of a dilapidated, tax-delinquent South Side building Wilson owned — and wipe out the more than $200,000 in back property taxes, penalties and interest that he failed to pay for 10 years. The land bank then sold the building for $40,000 over to Lisa Livingston, a day care-center operator Wilson had recommended as a buyer. Livingston, who promised to rehab the property, also was a Wilson business partner — which Wilson didn’t disclose and land bank officials failed to discover.

“Asked in November about the May 2018 transaction, Rose said the insider deal never should have been allowed and called it “an absolute aberration” for the land bank. But he said he wouldn’t move to void the sale because Livingston already had invested in rehabbing the building. The Sun-Times’ report prompted Preckwinkle to order an audit of Rose’s agency and Patrick Blanchard, the county government’s inspector general, to investigate. Both reviews are continuing.

“Rose faced another controversy when the Sun-Times reported in February that the land bank sold his assistant Natasha Cornog a house in Oak Lawn, rejecting a higher offer. Cornog took homestead property tax exemptions on that home and two others at the same time — only one is allowed — to get a total of more than $16,000 in tax breaks. Rose ended up firing Cornog, and the Cook County assessor’s office said it would ask her to repay $5,911.

“Rose won’t talk about any of this. He declined interview requests, didn’t respond directly to questions and, in a written statement provided for him by his lawyer, said ‘I am proud of the tremendous work that I and my team have done at the Cook County Land Bank Authority. I have served as Chief Operating Officer of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, and I managed a $170 million loan fund portfolio as Director of Commercial Real Estate for Urban Partnership Bank. I worked on transactions totaling over $1 billion while at GE Capital, and I earned an MBA from Cornell University. My personal financial matters have no bearing on my ability to manage the work of the land bank.’

“‘On Friday, after this article was posted online, the lawyer, Peter M. Katsaros, sent a letter calling Rose ‘an outstanding business executive who has led the Cook County Land Bank Authority very capably over the last five and a half years.’ Katsaros also wrote ‘the article you posted this morning sports a racist point of view suggesting that Mr. Rose has to justify his salary and bonuses over the years to the public.'” (FitzPatrick and Novak, 6/12/20)

Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times

The Cook County Land Bank Authority won’t show what Robert Rose Jr. did to merit the extra tens of thousands of dollars nor say why he got bigger bonuses than his contract calls for, Lauren FitzPatrick and Tim Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/12/20

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