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Ethics adviser recuses himself from Lauzen probe

Complaint referred to State's Attorney's Office

GENEVA – Grant Wegner, the Kane County interim ethics adviser, recused himself from reviewing an ethics complaint filed this week against Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and independent contractor Rick Nagel, citing an appearance of impropriety. 

In an email to Ellen Nottke, who filed the complaint, and to Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Lulves, Wegner recused himself and asked that an independent person qualified to act as ethics adviser review the documentation submitted.

Wegner cited a section of the ethics ordinance indicating the chairman appoints the ethics adviser and reviews the statements submitted by the adviser.

“As a result, I believe there would be an appearance of an impropriety if I were to review Ellen’s complaint, since it is directed at the County Board chairman,” Wegner’s email states, citing another section of the ethics ordinance.

“We have received the referral which is under review. We will advise when that review is completed,” Lulves stated in an email response to Wegner and Nottke.

As to whether an outside attorney or special prosecutor would be retained to review the complaint, Lulves said, “It’s under review, and no decision has been made about anything.”

Nagel, of Geneva, 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. His six-month $30,000 contract is supported by riverboat casino funds.

Nottke, a Batavia Township resident, alleged that when Nagel posted a link to Lauzen’s annual Porky Picnic political fundraiser in Kane County Connects’ daily calendar of events, both violated the county’s ethics ordinance as a prohibited political activity.

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 forbids county officers or employees from intentionally using county resources or property in connection with prohibited political activity. It also forbids officers or employees from performing prohibited political activity while being paid by the county, or to be required to do so as a condition of employment.

Nagel said he did not know the Porky Picnic was a politician fundraiser and made a mistake when he included it in the calendar listing of events in the county’s newsletter. Lauzen said he did not ask Nagel to post the notice of his fundraiser in Kane County Connects and leaves the newsletter’s contents up to Nagel as an experienced editor.

Both said that, going forward, it would not happen again.

Nagel’s background is as an editor at the Aurora-Beacon News, which is owned by the Sun-Times Media.

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

“I understand and appreciate [retired] Judge Wegner’s concerns about this issue,” Nottke wrote in an email. “It shows me that he is taking his responsibilities seriously. I trust that the State’s Attorney’s Office will follow through, so that there will be a thorough and fair investigation of this matter, and [I] look forward to the next step in this process.”

The State’s Attorney’s Office is looking into similar ethics complaints about Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham and former deputy clerk Jeff Ward of Geneva for using the county’s computers, servers and email for campaign and political purposes.

“It’s still under review,” Lulves said. “Everything is under review.”

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