The lack of an ethics law vote in Kane County before next Tuesday's primary was already a political trip wire, and on Tuesday it became a personal battleground as well.
County board member Jim Mitchell called out fellow board member Cathy Hurlbut and Chairman Karen McConnaughay for campaign donations they've taken from the owner of much of the land associated with the looming Interstate 88/Route 47 interchange. Mitchell has called for ethics ordinance revisions that would force a county board member, and the chairman, to vocally declare any campaign contributions received by an entity that would profit from a board decision before any votes are taken. A vote on that ethics revision hasn't happened, so Mitchell said he'll publicly call out his fellow elected officials on such contributions for the remainder of his term.
"The I-88/Route 47 project is not a bad thing until you start looking at D-2s and find that the person owning most of the land gave a substantial contribution to our county board chairman," Mitchell said. "They gave another large contribution to Cathy Hurlbut. Is that wrong? I don't know. But if it's not, why are they not telling us this?"
Records show Sugar Grove, LLC, the landowner in question, gave McConnaughay $2,000 and Hurlbut $1,000.
After the meeting, Hurlbut tracked down Mitchell in the hallway and laid into him for playing politics. Hurlbut is in a contest with fellow Republicans Tom Hartwell and Karin Herwick to become the next circuit court clerk.
"You are a real jerk," Hurlbut said to Mitchell. "Where's all this money? A grand? You guys are something else. You are a real piece."
Mitchell shrugged off Hurlbut's comments. He said in an interview that he doesn't have a problem with Hurlbut or McConnaughay taking the donations as long as they abstain from voting or making comments on the I-88/Route 47 project and say it's because they accepted the donations.
"The question is not did they do something illegal; the question is why didn't you tell people about it," Mitchell said.
Later, Hurlbut said she wasn't even aware of the contribution until Mitchell pointed it out. She said it is unreasonable for anyone to think a contribution of that amount has any impact on a politician's vote.
"You think I'm going to sell my soul for a thousand bucks?" Hurlbut said. "That was just rude and uncalled for. A thousand dollars doesn't even show up on my radar screen. This stuff just gets to be a joke. That interchange is a good project. It's a no-brainer. We've been talking about it for a long time. These guys are just smart investors."
This isn't the first time McConnaughay has faced pay-to-play accusations during her campaign for the state senate seat in the 33rd District. State Sen. Chris Lauzen made similar accusations in January. Lauzen is running to succeed McConnaughay as county board chairman. Like those accusations, McConnaughay said Mitchell is playing political games and should take any concerns he has about wrongdoing to the state's attorney's office. Mitchell is supporting opponents of Hurlbut and McConnaughay in their races.
"He'd rather grandstand a week before an election in order to get the cheap political shot in a newspaper story," McConnaughay said. "That's the reputation he's developed as a county board member. It's not very productive."
McConnaughay said the I-88/Route 47 project will and should move forward because it will create thousands of jobs in the area. Campaign contributions don't detract from the value or necessity of the project, she said.
"I find it really absurd and, frankly, disgusting for (Mitchell) to play politics over this issue," McConnaughay said.