Cook County Land Bank under fire for hiring decision

Lawyer hired for agency lived with top aide to board chair

From left: Michael Del Galdo, Cook County Land Bank Authority’s Bridget Gainer, and Kara Highfill
From left: Michael Del Galdo, Cook County Land Bank Authority’s Bridget Gainer, and Kara Highfill (DLG Law Group, AFL-CIO HIT, LinkedIn, Getty)

The Cook County Land Bank Authority is under fire for hiring a lawyer who was living with the top aide to the chair of the agency’s board.

Michael Del Galdo began working for the agency a month after a federal grand jury subpoenaed the land bank for records of its real estate dealings in May 2021, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Del Galdo was living with Kara Highfill, who until last month was chief of staff to Bridget Gainer, the county commissioner who founded the land bank and oversees its board.

Del Galdo’s contract with the land bank, which he didn’t sign until eight months after he began working for it, doesn’t specify what he and his firm were hired to do, saying only that he was hired “to provide guidance, counsel and legal services as directed.”

According to Del Galdo’s bills for the land bank, his services included responding to the federal subpoena requesting records involving more than 20 properties the land bought and sold in the city and suburbs. At the time his contract was signed, the land bank already owed his firm more than $25,000 and, as of now, has paid him more than $32,000.

Shortly after Executive Director Eleanor Gorski signed the contract with Del Galdo, his firm also provided $684 worth of “unspecified legal services” to Gainer’s reelection campaign as an in-kind contribution.

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When asked who recommended Del Galdo’s services, Tarrah Cooper Wright, an outside consultant, told the outlet, “Del Galdo Law Group was hired given their extensive background and expertise in municipal law.”

In October 2020, Highfill, who was Gainer’s assistant in 2017, registered to vote from a Burr Ridge home owned by Del Galdo and both of them voted from that address in June.

Gainer hired Highfill to serve as her $95,000-a-year chief of staff, where one of her roles was to keep tabs on the land bank. She left her position with Gainer last month for a job with the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Victoria Pruitt