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Ethics complaint filed against Lauzen, contract employee

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 10:24 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 9:45 a.m. CST

GENEVA – An ethics complaint was filed Thursday against Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Community Outreach Coordinator Rick Nagel, alleging that Lauzen’s political fundraiser was listed in the Kane County Connects e-newsletter.

The complaint was filed by Batavia Township resident Ellen Nottke to Grant Wegner, the county’s interim ethics adviser.

Nottke’s complaint alleges that when Nagel listed Lauzen’s annual political fundraiser, the Porky Picnic, in the newletter's daily calendar of events (found at http://shawurl.com/1cnc), both violated the county’s ethics ordinance.

“After review of these documents, you will agree that the Kane County ethics ordinance has been violated, and you will refer this matter to the Kane County State’s Attorney,” Nottke’s letter states.

Under the newsletter’s “events this week,” the Porky Picnic on Aug. 9 was listed all week, according to print-out of the site included in the ethics complaint. 

The listing linked to a Kane County Chronicle news brief about the fundraiser.

The cost was $30 a person, $50 for couples and $75 for families. It advised that checks for sponsorships should be made out to “Friends for Lauzen.”

According to the ethics ordinance, prohibited political activity is described as “soliciting contributions, including but not limited to, the purchase of, selling, distributing or receiving payment for tickets for any political fundraiser, political meeting or other political event.”

The ethics ordinance also forbids county officers or employees from intentionally performing prohibited political activity while being paid by the county, or to be required to do so as a condition of employment.

Nagel, a Geneva resident, was hired in March to spearhead the Kane County Connects initiative, which is intended to engage residents with county government and provide them with information, such as road closures.

Nagel’s six-month, $30,000 contract is supported by riverboat casino funds.

Nagel said he did not realize the Porky Picnic was a political fundraising event when he included it in the calendar listing.

He said Lauzen did not tell him to include it but that Nagel added it on his own along with other events.

“I was thinking of it more as a community event than as a fundraiser,” Nagel said. “I know we have covered the Porky Picnic event for the Beacon. It did not register in my head that I was violating a tenet there. ... If I had to think about it, I should not have done that. I should have been smart enough to recognize it. It was a mistake on my part.”

Nagel previously was an editor at the Aurora-Beacon News, which is owned by Sun-Times Media.

Nagel said he paid $50 for he and his wife to attend.

“I had never been to the Porky Picnic before,” Nagel said. “I realized it is totally a fundraiser. If I had to do it over again, I would not have done that.”

Nagel also asked why Nottke did not just call him when she saw he made a mistake and tell him to take it down. 

“If she had sent me an email, I’d have taken it down,” Nagel said. “Instead ... she waits until days later and files a complaint. That is a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

Later in an email statement, Nagel wrote that Nottke was right and he should have known better than to link a political fundraiser in the newsletter.

The newsletter went out to more than 8,000 Kane residents, Nagel said.

“Editing Kane County Connects isn’t the same as editing a newspaper, and Ellen’s point is a good one. It’s something I’ll learn from and keep in mind as we move forward,” Nagel wrote in an email.

Lauzen said Nagel is an experienced editor.

“I do not interfere with his judgments of what to put in the Kane County Connects,” Lauzen said. “For example, I did not ask him to post the announcement. After discussing it with him, he intends not to post any links for similar events in the future.”

As to Nottke’s ethics complaint, Lauzen said, “We all live and learn.”

Nottke was chairwoman of the Batavia Township Republicans four years ago, and also volunteered for the Kane County Republicans, she said.

Nottke said she filed the complaint as an advocate for good government.

“In light of the pending investigation at the Kane County Clerk’s Office and the fiasco at Animal Control, it would appear to be an incredible act of arrogance or ignorance to allow a primary political fundraiser to be advertised in a taxpayer funded newsletter,” Nottke wrote in an email response.

Nottke was referring to an ongoing ethics investigation by the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office into County Clerk Jack Cunningham and a former deputy clerk, Geneva resident Jeff Ward, for using the county’s servers and email to work on Cunningham’s primary campaign.

Nottke also was referring to the resignation in May of former interim director of Animal Control Robert Sauceda amid a probe of personnel issues.

“Mr. Lauzen ran on a platform espousing integrity and his high moral standards,” Nottke’s email stated. “He was going to ‘drain the swamp’ of cronyism and ‘pay to play’ and that he was going to restore integrity to county government.”

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