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updated: 7/7/2011 6:55 AM

Kane ethics law review: Key portions invalid

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  • Joe McMahon

      Joe McMahon

 
 

A Kane County assistant state's attorney delivering a fresh review of the county's ethics law Wednesday said several areas of the law that try to address conflicts of interest can't be enforced.

And a couple of board members said the remaining parts of the law haven't been implemented anyway.

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Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Joe Cullen's review follows deep criticism of several areas of the ethics law by former State's Attorney John Barsanti before he left office in December. Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon took the matter a step further in suggesting corrections to the law that would make it more viable.

Cullen, however, said several areas of the law can't be fixed.

For one, Cullen said the entire section limiting political contributions is invalid.

"This is the most controversial area, but we don't believe you can regulate political contributions," Cullen said. "The ethics law says any gift is allowable if it's something that would be allowable under the election code. That really renders the entire political contribution section to be irrelevant."

Cullen said the contribution limits proposed by the county conflict with both state law and, arguably, the First Amendment.

Cullen also said much of the ethics ordinance isn't applicable to any independently elected official outside the county board. The county board has no power to require ethics training or disclosure of any political relationships contractors may have with other elected offices, Cullen said. In fact, the entire section of the ethics law requiring contractor disclosure of political contributions may be too cumbersome to enforce, Cullen said.

Beyond that, the ability of the state's attorney's office to investigate compliance with the ethics law can come only if the county board agrees to increase McMahon's budget and hire new employees, Cullen said.

The county board's Human Services Committee will take the next month to consider McMahon's suggestions and input before making any changes.

In the meantime, the county has taken no noticeable steps toward implementing any areas of the ethics law that haven't been questioned.

County board member Jim Mitchell was one of the leading voices pushing for higher ethical standards on the board last year. He said McMahon's office did a good job in reviewing the ethics ordinance, but he fears a lack of priority in implementing the surviving portions of the law.

"They haven't gutted the ethics ordinance or anything else," Mitchell said. "But I'd like to express a concern about a lack of implementation of this ordinance. In looking at some things that should've been done, none of them have been done. Ninety-nine percent of the ordinance is still there and needs to be implemented."

In the same spirit, county board member T.R. Smith said take McMahon's concerns into consideration and get the ethics law into effect as soon as possible.

"If we don't get something done in a timely manner it looks like we don't care about it," Smith said. "We don't want the public thinking we don't care about it."

The Human Services Committee, which is in charge of the considering McMahon's concerns, could not muster a quorum to hear Cullen's summary.

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