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Kane board slated to hash out ethics rules

Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2012 6:05 p.m. CST

GENEVA – The Kane County Board could soon put an end to the debate over the county’s proposed ethics ordinance.

But that decision is not likely to come before board members have one more debate over what the ordinance should require.

Wednesday, the County Board’s Executive Committee, a committee made up by all of the County Board’s various committee chairs, forwarded on to the County Board a motion to again vote on a proposed ethics ordinance.

The Executive Committee also asked the full board to consider three amendments to the ordinance.

The County Board debated the ordinance and its language since early 2011, when former Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti advised the board that some portions of the county’s existing ethics ordinance were unconstitutional and could be overturned in court.

After the ordinance was revised and submitted to the board, County Board members deadlocked over the measure, with some believing the new ordinance was not stringent enough.

The measure then was sent back to committee and tweaked before being sent back to the board.

To toughen the ordinance and address other oversights, board members proposed three changes.

One amendment, offered by board member Jim Mitchell, R-North Aurora, would require all campaign finance documents and economic interest disclosures to be sent to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office for review whenever a member of the County Board, county employee or someone from the public submits a written ethics complaint against a County Board member or certain county employees.

The ordinance would not apply to any of Kane County’s elected officials, including the sheriff, state’s attorney, treasurer, clerk or circuit clerk or their employees, as they, under state law, are exempt from such ordinances if passed by the County Board, according to an opinion from Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon.

A second amendment would seek to add “an administrative fee” of up to $5,000 to be assessed to anyone convicted of violating the county’s ethics ordinance.

McMahon, however, said such a provision could run afoul of state law, which would bar the county from collecting “attorney’s fees” to cover the costs of a successful prosecution.

And a third amendment would ensure that the civil union partners of county board members or county employees would be explicitly included in the list of family members for which certain activities must be reported.

While the third amendment pertaining to civil unions received no objections, County Board members disagreed over the merits of the disclosure and administrative fee amendments.

County Board member Catherine Hurlbut, R-Elgin, continued to question the need to have the state’s attorney review all disclosure forms, as that information is “easily available” online.

But Mitchell questioned that assertion.

“We’ve got people on one side saying the information is out there, and it’s easy,” he said. “On the other, we’ve got the state’s attorney saying this is a lot of work to go through all of this.

“So I don’t know who to believe.”

The board is scheduled to take up the ethics ordinance and the amendments at its next meeting Tuesday.

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