Kane County ethics laws, for the most part, require a do-over
Kane County government, for now, is a land without ethics, at least none that can be enforced. An opinion on the county's ethics law from former State's Attorney John Barsanti before he left office to become a circuit judge Dec. 1 deems several sections of the law unclear, not applicable and unenforceable.
A county board committee will try to retool the law.
Specifically, Barsanti's opinion threw out the section of the law regarding political contributions. It cites the state's new laws regarding contributions. Kane County's dollar limit on such contributions is lower than the state allows. However, Kane County does not have home rule authority and can't impose different rules from the state, according to the opinion.
The opinion also said the ethics laws are not applicable to the county's elected officials other than the chairman and the board members because of the internal control statute. That statute says other elected officials, such as the clerk and the treasurer, have the right to run their offices as they see fit.
Perhaps most importantly, the opinion holds firm on the role of the Kane County State's Attorney as the enforcer of the law being a conflict of interest. The problem stems from office's role as the legal counsel to the board. The idea is that the state's attorney can't simultaneously police and defend the board. That leaves all the other, presumably valid portions of the ethics law, with no one to actually blow the whistle on improper behavior.
"We've all unanimously supported the need for an ethics ordinance, but it's not going to do us any good if it's unenforceable," county board member John Hoscheit said Wednesday in summarizing the problem.
The county board will form a new subcommittee to figure out what to do with the invalid portions of its ethics law. The most vocal proponent of the law during its drafting may not be on that committee. County board member Jim Mitchell is no longer on the Human Services Committee that would oversee the subcommittee. But Mitchell said he fully intends to provide his input even if it isn't solicited. However, he has no ideas about who will enforce the law if not the state's attorney.
"It looks like there'll have to be some changes, but the whole ethics ordinance will not go away," Mitchell said. "In my opinion, we want the strongest ethics ordinance that is legal."
Before that, board members must contact Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon to make sure he agrees with Barsanti's opinion.
The committee will not meet again until February.
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