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Stroger Administration Hosted Zoo Party with Federal Grant Money

By Kevin Robinson in News on Dec 1, 2010 3:00PM

Photo by ellenprather95.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that newly released county documents showed a zoo party was hosted by outgoing Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's administration, paid for with federal grant money intended to help families whose homes were damaged by flooding.

The event, held at Brookfield Zoo cost $79,000 and was billed as a "family resource day." An invoice obtained by the Tribune showed that the zoo party included parking, admission to the zoo, a face painter, an interactive DJ, and "hungry as a bear" picnic baskets for 2,250 people (insert your Yogi Bear joke here). Along with tips on how to remove mold and job training and health screening, the zoo party also had a juggler, special attractions and music therapy for attendees. Stroger spokesman Marcel Bright declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation by Inspector General Patrick Blanchard.

County Commissioners and county residents impacted by the flooding are not understandably not happy with the news. County Board Commissioner Bridget Gainer told the Tribune that said she is “flabbergasted” by the cost of the event. “We have to be excruciatingly careful when we use grant funds,” she said. “They are given to us for very specific purposes.” Ida Mullan, 72, and her husband David were also unhappy with the use of funding. “They didn’t need to have that at Brookfield Zoo,” said Mullan, whose home was damaged in the flooding. “That was a big expense. That could have gone to the contractors. That would have paid for three houses.” The Mullans have fixed their home, but have been hit with additional costs that aren't covered by the federal disaster relief.

Of course no Stroger story in Cook County would be complete without some friends and family getting a cut. Blanchard has recommended that the county’s executive director of homeland security, David Ramos, be suspended without pay for 10 days for his role in the party. Blanchard alleges that Ramos's brother-in-law was hired at $26.50 an hour for the zoo party. And Eugene Mullins's aunt was paid $31 an hour under the program. Mullins denied involvement, however, telling the Tribune “I didn’t have anything to do with that one.”