GENEVA – The County Board has taken the first step toward rewriting its hiring policies, giving county government department directors greater abilities to fill vacancies and hire under “emergency” circumstances, without first securing formal County Board approval.
And the County Board appears poised to define “emergencies” used to justify hiring that sidesteps the county’s hiring freeze to explicitly include a decline in income flowing to a particular department.
Wednesday, the County Board Human Services Committee recommended approval of a resolution that would rewrite the county’s hiring rules, which have been in place since 2008.
The County Board set the hiring freeze in response to the onset of the Great Recession. Under such policies, county department heads were not allowed to hire new employees without first having the hire reviewed and approved by the County Board.
In recent weeks, that policy has come under scrutiny, and County Board members have questioned how effective the policy is and whether it is too ambiguous.
The questions arose after a move earlier this year to hire a political ally of County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen to serve as a temporary billing manager in the Animal Control Department.
The hiring was not submitted to the board for formal approval, and it was done without first posting the job to allow other interested applicants to submit resumes.
But Lauzen and supporters of the hiring have defended the decision, saying the quick hire was necessary to help animal control begin collecting potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid animal registration fees.
Under the proposed policy, county department heads would be permitted to hire, without formal board approval, to fill vacancies in pre-existing positions at salaries that are the same or less.
Department heads also would be permitted to hire under emergency circumstances.
However, board members said the proposed policy should be rewritten to state clearly that declining revenues, such as those experienced in animal control, would be considered such an emergency.
The proposed new policy also would require county directors to receive approval from the County Board for departmental reorganizations, restructuring or the creation of new positions.
Most committee members believed the changes would address the “ambiguities” present in the current hiring freeze rules.
Board member Christina Castro, D-Elgin, chairman of the committee, said the changes would help department heads better manage their departments, without worry about “micromanaging” from the County Board.
But County Board member Mark Davoust, R-St. Charles, said the new measures may create new ambiguities around which county officials will need to navigate.