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Sauceda hire prompts review of county hiring policies

GENEVA – The Kane County Board has launched a re-evaluation of the county’s hiring policies at some county government departments following the hiring of a political ally of Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen as a temporary billing manager at the county’s Animal Control Department.

And the review was bolstered further by a belief among county officials that the county may have not abided by its own rules when making the hire.

Wednesday, the County Board’s Human Services Committee, which oversees the county’s human resources department, among other aspects of county business, discussed the county’s hiring freeze.

That freeze was implemented in 2008 in response to the onset of the Great Recession, and the associated economic problems that still plague the county. However, the hiring freeze, which was encoded in county ordinance, allowed for several exceptions, including the ability of department heads to hire to fill vacancies in positions for which funding is provided in county budgets and for hiring in emergency situations.

The ordinance also does not expressly require county department heads to receive explicit approval from the County Board to hire temporary, seasonal or part-time workers.

That issue came to a head in recent weeks after the county’s animal control department hired Robert Sauceda as billing manager. The temporary hire of Sauceda was made in January by Barb Jeffers, executive director of the Kane County Health Department. Jeffers earlier this month was appointed to her current position by Lauzen after months as interim director.

County Board members have questioned Sauceda’s employment, and asked whether the county needed to clarify its policy on seasonal and part-time employees. Committee members sought to address the “ambiguity” of the hiring freeze ordinance that could have allowed hires, like that of Sauceda, to have occurred without County Board oversight.

“We asked who and what should be coming before us,” said County Board member Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, chairman of the Human Services committee.

During the discussion, Castro and County Board member Mark Davoust, R-St. Charles, who serves as vice chairman of the committee, said a representative of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office told the committee that he believes temporary, seasonal and part-time hires are subject to review under the county’s hiring freeze rules.

Thursday, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon issued a statement that the office has “expressed no formal or informal opinion about any specific employee, potential employee, independent contractor, or potential independent contractor” hired by the county.

Committee members did not address Sauceda by name, nor did they discuss animal control hiring policies, specifically.

County Board member Mark Davoust, R-St. Charles, who serves as vice chairman of the Human Services committee, said the review is not being conducted to penalize any county employee. He noted that the state’s attorney’s office indicated that the county has not broken any laws and is not obligated to fire anyone, or to review past hires. Nor, he said, is there a desire to do so.

“Once you separate the political and personal aspect of this, it becomes a fairly routine discussion,” Davoust said. “Everybody needs to be on the same page, and playing by the same rules.”

Lauzen on Wednesday continued to defend the hiring of Sauceda, saying it will help the county collect tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees owed to animal control, and help to make animal control self-sufficient.

Lauzen said in his first three weeks on the job, Sauceda has helped collect $34,000 for animal control.

The County Board could again take up the discussion of its hiring policies at later meetings, perhaps at the Finance and Budget Committee meeting on Feb. 27.

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