Not until Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon sent a letter warning of criminal penalties did the Kane County Board approve minutes from its last four meetings. They did so Dec. 13.
But Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen said McMahon’s letter is retaliation against him for objecting to bonuses McMahon gave his employees.
“Frankly, I think that this is just a distraction from … the bonuses,” Lauzen said. “It’s misdirection, distraction.”
As to the tardiness of the minutes being approved, Lauzen said, “I simply fell behind.”
“You know what it’s like to work weekends and all week,” Lauzen said. “We corrected the issue on [Dec. 7] as far as the Executive Committee meeting minutes. … We corrected that in less than five seconds and cost the taxpayers zero.”
County records show that minutes of the Oct. 5 Executive Committee meeting were deferred from approval at the November meeting until the Dec. 7 meeting.
In a Dec. 2 letter to board members and the chairman, McMahon wrote that, “the September minutes are overdue for approval; the October minutes are due for approval; and the November minutes, in accord with past board practice, should be available for review and approval.”
McMahon wrote that the Open Meetings Act requires minutes of a public body to be approved “within 30 days after that meeting or at the public body’s second subsequent regular meeting, whichever is later.”
McMahon’s letter called for the board to approve the four sets of minutes – three regular meetings and a special meeting – at its Dec. 13 County Board meeting – which it did. McMahon’s letter refers to Robert’s Rules of Order, which the board has adopted, that permits board members “to overrule a decision of the chair by bringing and passing a motion to approve minutes of a meeting.”
“As there is a criminal penalty associated with violations of the Open Meetings Act, we advise if the minutes are not called for approval and approved, the board should call for approval on its own motion,” McMahon’s letter stated.
'They failed to vote on them'
McMahon’s letter also states his office requested that Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham resend the draft minutes to each board member for review, so they can be approved at December’s meeting.
Cunningham said his office’s responsibility is to take the meeting minutes and preserve them.
“The minutes were taken and sent to board members – and they failed to vote on them,” Cunningham said. “They were completed, sent to all the board members and the chairman, and basically they never voted on them. If it’s an oversight or what it is – I don’t know.”
Cunningham said the minutes are not only transcribed verbatim, but they also are recorded and on video “to be sure they are absolutely correct.”
“We lived up to our responsibility,” Cunningham said. “We have not done anything wrong on our end.”
Board Vice Chairman Drew Frasz, R-Elburn said the chairman "sets the agenda, and minutes are part of the agenda, and they have not been on our agenda for three months.”
“As the state’s attorney clearly stated, the board members are ultimately answerable if they don’t get the minutes done,” Frasz said. “We were assured at the Executive Committee meeting that these would be done by the full County Board meeting on [Dec. 13]."
The Dec. 13 agenda states minutes from Sept. 13, Oct. 11, Nov. 8 and 16 were to be approved, and they were.
Lump sums address pay imbalance
According to a Dec. 7 news release, McMahon stated his office’s employees received a supplemental lump sum payment, in addition to their regular pay.
“Most of the lump sums were a combination of a one-time payment, plus a cost of living adjustment pay increase retroactive to March 2016,” the release stated. “The maximum lump sum was $1,000."
The lump sums came from budgeted money not spent during fiscal year 2016, which ended Nov. 30, the release stated.
McMahon’s news release also noted the pay increases are accounted for in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
“Our office was under budget overall for FY2016, and we will be returning money to the county's general fund,” McMahon stated in the release. “To control costs, we typically delay hiring as long as possible, keeping job vacancies temporarily open with the expectation that existing employees will pick up the extra work.”
The lump sums awarded help keep employees from leaving, and – if there is no surplus – no lump sums are given, the release stated.
The lump sums also address the pay imbalance between Kane County State's Attorney's Office employees and employees of state's attorney's offices in other Chicago-area counties, the release stated.
"My goal is to get our staff paid competitively with other regional counties – Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will,” McMahon stated in the release. “When we reach this level of competitive salaries, I will discontinue the practice of lump sums. … The pay imbalance still exists, and it has been costly to our office and to taxpayers.”
The lump sums do not require an additional budget appropriation or approval from the Kane County Board, the release stated.
The Internal Control portion of Illinois Counties Code gives independently elected county officials – which McMahon is – the authority to choose how money budgeted to their offices is spent, the release stated.
'A gluttonous abuse'
Lauzen lashed out at McMahon regarding the bonuses, saying they cost the taxpayers $1.6 million – $1.4 million over the last four years, plus $200,000 this year in $1,000 Christmas bonuses – which amounted to giving 5 percent to 10 percent raises.
“When everyone else in the county – union and rank and file workers – are held at 3.5 percent,” Lauzen said.
Lauzen said he understands the internal control statute – but blasted McMahon's lump sum payment practice as costly to taxpayers because the payouts add to pensions costs.
“The press release and letter are an inaccurate and dishonest attempt to justify an example of a gluttonous abuse of his spending power,” Lauzen said of McMahon. “They [county-wide elected officials] can spend however they want, but just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.”
Rather than responding directly to Lauzen's comments, McMahon's office referred to an Oct. 4 letter he sent to board members and Lauzen.
Among the documents included with the letter is a timeline from Oct. 14 to Aug. 9, 2016, of issues connected to the chairman's hiring of outside law firms.
McMahon's timeline shows that he first sent letters to Lauzen about how he cannot hire outside legal counsel in October 2015, months before Lauzen first criticized McMahon's bonuses.
Lauzen first raised the possibility of retaliation after a Sept. 9 letter from McMahon to board members regarding the chairman's hiring of outside law firms in violation of county ordinance and state law, stating then, "I hope it's not retaliation."