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County clerk refuses deputy’s offer to resign

Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 11:50 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 15, 2014 8:10 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – A deputy clerk in the Kane County Clerk’s Office who was suspended for sending a campaign email on the county’s server has offered to resign, officials said.

Incumbent Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham said deputy clerk Jeff Ward offered to resign Friday, but that Cunningham refused to accept it.

Cunningham said Ward offered to resign in a conversation, not in writing. Ward did not return a voicemail message seeking comment.

Ward was suspended for five days without pay after the incident this week in which he accessed Cunningham’s campaign finance records with the Illinois State Board of Elections to correct an error. 

“It did happen. It should not have happened,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said Ward is working on his re-election campaign on his own time.

Ward sent an email Wednesday on his county account – wardjeff@co.kane.il.us – to a state election official. Ward copied Cunningham on the clerk’s official email – cunninghamjohn@co.kane.il.us, records show.

Election law does not allow the use of taxpayer-supported materials for political purposes, said Tom Newman, deputy director of campaign disclosure for the Illinois State board of Elections. Newman said enforcement is through the local state’s attorney. Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said he would not discuss potential or pending investigations.

Cunningham is seeking the Republican nomination for his fourth term as county clerk in Tuesday’s primary. The three-term incumbent is being challenged by County Board member Mark Davoust, R-St. Charles.

Using the county’s resources in a political campaign also appears to be a violation of the county’s ethics ordinance. 

“No officer or employee shall intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time as defined herein,” the section detailing prohibited political activities states, in part. “No officer or employee shall intentionally use any property or resources of Kane County in connection with any prohibited political activity.”

Kane County ethics adviser Grant Wegman said in an email that he had received information relating to Ward’s emails late Thursday.

“I expect to respond by Monday,” Wegman said in the email.

Cunningham’s statement of organization in 2002, filed with the state board of elections, lists his county email address.

“I did not have another email at that time,” Cunningham said. “I may have screwed up.”

Cunningham said he also will have to update his campaign’s statement of organization, listing current officers. An amended statement of organization, filed in 2012, changes the treasurer to Doug Booth after the previous treasurer died.

Booth said he was no longer the treasurer as of January and that he gave Ward the password to access the online election disclosure information system.

“I filed his last quarterly report for December that was due Jan. 15,” Booth said. “I got a call from the state board of elections this week that Jack filed paperwork with a glaring mistake in it – that he gave his campaign over $100,000.”

Cunningham actually had given his campaign $15,000, but Ward had filed it as $150,000. The email was to correct the amount.

“I am my largest campaign contributor,” Cunningham said. “I don’t want somebody to come back to me later and say, ‘You owe me.’ ”

Cunningham said Ward served temporarily the campaign’s treasurer, but that North Aurora attorney John Duggan was his campaign treasurer now. Duggan said he agreed to help with Cunningham’s campaign in February.

“I have not done any financial filings yet,” Duggan said. “I did agree to help his campaign once he got the change accomplished.”

According to the statement of organization, known as a D-1 form, amendments must be filed within 10 days of changes. Cunningham acknowledged that he needed to update his statement of organization and attributed the delay to how busy he has been with the current election.

“I am my own campaign manager,” Cunningham said.

Newman said he called Booth first about the financial filing, then called Cunningham at the clerk’s office before being transferred to Ward. Newman said he left a message with Ward’s voicemail, who later returned the call.

“He needed to be aware of the filing obligation,” Newman said. “And since Mr. Booth was not treasurer anymore, he needed to file an amended statement of organization as well.”

Newman said contacting an incumbent at his or her government office is not out of the ordinary, when trying to get in contact.

“Using a work email was not a good idea,” Newman said. “But in terms of trying to get in touch with a committee – it can get difficult because it’s not always kept up-to-date.”

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