GENEVA – A special prosecutor determined that neither Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, nor independent contractor Rick Nagel, violated the county’s ethics ordinance when Nagel placed a notice about Lauzen’s annual political fundraiser in the Kane County Connects e-newsletter.
The complaint was filed by Ellen Nottke of Batavia Township on Aug. 14. Nottke alleged when Nagel listed Lauzen’s annual Porky Picnic political fundraiser in the newsletter’s daily calendar of events, both violated the county’s ethics ordinance.
In Monday’s decision, Special Prosecutor Charles Colburn wrote no violation of the ordinance was found for either Lauzen or Nagel.
The ethics ordinance defines prohibited political activity 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 using county resources or property in connection with prohibited political activity. It 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.
The newsletter goes out electronically to about 8,000 county residents, Lauzen said.
“It appears that Mr. Nagel placed the fundraising notice on the calendar upon his own initiative,” Colburn wrote. “Mr. Nagel has admitted that this was a mistake. Mr. Lauzen does not appear to have requested or directed that the Porky [Picnic] notice be placed on the Kane County Connects calendar.”
Nagel, because he was an independent contract employee at the time, is exempt from the definition of “employee” was not subject to the ordinance,” Colburn’s letter states.
Nagel since has been hired as a county employee.
Although not alleged in Nottke’s complaint, Colburn wrote he also evaluated it in light of the election interference section of the state election code. Because no criminal intent was found, the action did not violate the election code, either, Colburn wrote.
The election code states “no public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated for political campaign purposes.”
Nagel declined to comment because he had just been told about the investigation results.
Lauzen praised the process, which he said was “scrupulously followed.”
“It’s one of the many things I really appreciate about [Kane County State’s Attorney] Joe McMahon is that he takes us through the procedures thoroughly, and I’m glad it’s resolved now and a resolution is clearly stated: ‘No violation of the ordinance is found. No violation occurred,’ “ Lauzen said.
Lauzen criticized Nottke for filing the complaint, saying it wasted taxpayer money, but he could not say how much that was.
“Ellen … could have picked up the phone and called Rick,” Lauzen said. “I feel bad for Rick Nagel. As a highly competent and ethical news person, it certainly damaged his morale. But he did get a lesson in … there’s no room for error.”
Lauzen was critical of Nottke for having been a paid political adviser for his opponent in the 2012 race for chairman, Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns. Nottke was paid $3,000 by the Burns for County Board Chairman campaign for consulting services. Lauzen won the election. Lauzen said he and Burns since have mended fences.
Nottke responded via text message that she was displeased with the findings, but she was not surprised.
“In light of this judgment, I urge every [county] board member to take a good, hard look at the ethics ordinance,” Nottke wrote in a text. “It needs to be more ironclad, so that this type of abuse does not take place again. ... This is not about Chris. This is about a flawed ethics ordinance.”
The county’s interim ethics adviser, Grant Wegner, recused himself from investigating Nottke’s complaint and referred it to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office. A judge approved Colburn as special prosecutor on Aug. 25.