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County leaders criticize coroner’s spending

Lauzen questions purchase of Silly Putty; Russell said items were used as trinkets at events

GENEVA – On the heels of announcing his office has earned national accreditation, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell came under attack Friday for breaking budget promises and spending money on such items as Silly Putty.

The criticism followed briefings from other county officials about their proposed 2015 budget requests and revisions they have made since July to help reduce a potential $2 million shortfall in the general fund.

Russell has proposed a nearly $950,000 budget. After a contentious budget process last year, he agreed to an $843,000 budget for the next three years.

“You did promise us that,” County Board member Theresa Barreiro, D-Aurora, said at the Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting.

Russell said his budget includes items beyond his control, such as forensic pathologist fees and autopsies.

“I’m not going to make a decision on autopsies based on finances,” he said.

Board members also questioned Russell about hiring attorney Ken Shepro as a financial consultant, and Board Chairman Chris Lauzen quizzed the coroner on the number of vehicles in his fleet and a receipt for 1,000 units of Silly Putty.

Russell described the latter as trinkets for events such as National Night Out.

The coroner then criticized Lauzen for paying former Coroner Mary Lou Kearns $10,000 to $20,000 to conduct an audit on autopsies his office performed in 2013. The audit was triggered by Russell going over the budget, Lauzen said, and the results should provide guidance for the future.

Russell said he would rather save the county that money by assigning the work to a task force that would include other coroners.

Board members also urged Russell to install new equipment in the morgue so it could reopen. Mold recently was found at the facility, prompting Russell to outsource forensic operations to DuPage County.

“I think the Kane County coroner belongs in Kane County,” said Barb Wojnicki, R-Campton Hills.

About $76,000 already is approved for a new cooler and freezer – equipment Russell said can be removed and expanded to accommodate a new facility.

In addition to addressing his office’s immediate needs, Russell asked board members to start plans for a new coroner’s facility by placing it on the five-year plan.

Noting the recent accreditation, Russell said, “We are worth investing into.”

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