From a judicial bench Tuesday, Kane County Chairman Karen McConnaughay delivered her own judgment of the efficiency of the county's operations and corresponding compensation for government employees.
The report came while board members toured the county's new traffic court facility. The timing of its release signals a response to a lawsuit filed by McConnaughay's former political nemesis, Jim MacRunnels, that claimed she doled out raises to 14 high-level employees without the consent or knowledge of county board members.
McConnaughay's presentation was geared to show pay increases followed promotions to new positions. McConnaughay only had direct oversight of five of those employees when they received the promotions. In an interview before the Tuesday presentation, McConnaughy said a pay increase only followed the promotions when the employees showed an ability to cut costs in their newly-formed departments. The promotions came during the course of a three-year process of reorganizing the entire structure of county government when McConnaughay took office.
"I do believe when you take on more responsibility your willingness to accept it and excel is based on recognition by your employer that you are valued and compensated for what it is that you do," McConnaughay said in the interview. "I think that's a good management approach."
No top manager has received a pay increase since 2007. The report also shows the county has 400 fewer employees now than it did in 2004 when McConnaughay took over.
"It's amazing we do as well as we do with as little as we do it with," she said.
As to the part of MacRunnels suit that claimed the raises occurred without county board knowledge, McConnaughay put that obligation directly on board members during her presentation. She said there is only one way board members could not have realized the entire structure of the county government was being changed on their watch and not know about it.
"You had to seriously be terribly asleep at the wheel for that to happen," she told the board.
She then invited their questions and scrutiny over the report. In doing so, she told the board she thought some members of the 26-seat body have an unproductive attitude about wanting to micromanage and publicly criticize county employees. She also challenged the board to consider if it wants to move away from a strong chairman form of government and employ some sort of administrator or county director to supplement her role.
Board members responded to McConnaughay's presentation only by decrying their inability to view and rate the veracity of the information it contained as McConnaughay unveiled it. Several members promised to come back to her with thoughts and questions once they reviewed the information independently. Much of the presentation consisted of comparisons between Kane and neighboring counties to make the case for a more efficient operation than their governing peers.
Using the example of the Kane County Forest Preserve District, County Board Member John Hoscheit said he agreed it was time to take a closer look at McConnaughay's role. Hoscheit is the president of the forest preserve district. The district hired an executive director to tackle most of the day-to-day administrative functions following a report on its management structure by Northern Illinois University. Hoscheit said it was maybe time to do the same for county government.
"I would encourage, for the long-term health of the community, that that discussion occur sooner rather than later."
And it will occur sooner -- at least in part. A county board committee will meet Wednesday to discuss changes in the organizational structure of the county's Development Department. The discussion may dovetail into the county's structure as a whole.