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updated: 7/10/2012 5:25 PM

Kane County plan to win support for raises on hold

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A Kane County Board vote scheduled for Tuesday to support department head raises given by Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay years ago was delayed in what appears to be an effort to drum up support.

But new political tension and legal quirks are arising that further muddy the legal ramifications of the pending lawsuit that is fueling McConnaughay's push for retroactive support of her actions.

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McConnaughay walked out of a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning leaving board members to debate the merits of supporting her push to have the raises explicitly approved on a retroactive basis. The discussion originally was slated to occur in public with a vote to follow. But with four of the board members absent, it appeared McConnaughay may not have had enough votes to support her proposal.

The vote could undercut a major portion of a pending lawsuit filed by McConnaughay's former Republican political opponent, Jim MacRunnels. His suit claims McConnaughay doled out raises to high-level employees without the consent or knowledge of the county board. McConnaughay pitched the plan last week and ushered it through the Executive Committee while maintaining her position that the county board already has repeatedly approved the raises by voting on the county's overall budget.

But a series of robocalls went out to Kane County residents after the county executive committee meeting that may have ratcheted up the political heat of supporting McConnaughay's plan.

"Your board member may be joining Chairman Karen McConnaughay in ratifying big raises, some up to 61 percent, for executive staff," the robocall told listeners. "When was the last time you received a raise of 61 percent? Will your board member say no to McConnaughay's out-of-control spending? Will your board member stand with McConnaughay or stand with the taxpayers?"

McConnaughay's resolution disappeared from the board's scheduled agenda shortly after. Jon Zahm, a consultant for State Sen. Chris Lauzen's county board chairman campaign, sent out a statement congratulating officials who've spoken out against McConnaughay's call for the retroactive vote.

"This effort shows that the days of country club establishment control of the Kane County Board are coming to a close," Zahm said. "Good people, who put taxpayers first and believe in reform, finally appear to comprise a majority on the board. McConnaughay had secured as many as 12 votes of 26 for this shameful retroactive pay raise. It was knocked down today, but she may try to revive it from the dead."

Indeed, the county board will have a special meeting on July 31 to discuss McConnaughay's resolution again. But several board members who were part of Tuesday's closed-door meeting said McConnaughay furthered a rift between her and the board in walking out of Tuesday's discussion.

"She said, 'I'm getting my own attorney, and you're on your own,' board member Jackie Tredup said. Several other board members confirmed that account.

McConnaughay released a written statement Tuesday confirming she will have a personal attorney as the lawsuit moves forward. It said the Kane County State's Attorney's Office has appointed a special counsel to represent her because of a potential conflict of interest. The state's attorney can't represent McConnaughay as an individual and the full county board at the same time.

The statement marked the first time anyone has publicly suggested the full county board may have some liability in MacRunnels' lawsuit.

MacRunnels' attorney, Will King, said county board members are not on the hook in this dispute.

"They are not a party to this," King said. "That was not the intention, and that is not something we are going to do. This lawsuit is about the conduct of one person."

King acknowledged elected officials do at times receive protection from personal liability for actions they make as part of the office they hold. But he said that shouldn't be true of the raises in question.

"We've alleged that she has knowingly violated a county ordinance," King said. "I don't know how someone would be protected if they knowingly violated the law."

McConnaughay, in her statement, repeated the defense of the raises she's maintained since the lawsuit was filed.

"The facts are simple and clear: We restructured county government and reduced director positions by over half," she wrote. "As a result, remaining directors had much more responsibility and work and needed to be paid on a par with their peers in the region. The county followed the exact procedures that my predecessors had always followed. The changes in compensation were public record and included in the county budgets passed by the board."

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