The likely new face of ethical conduct for Kane County officials and employees foresees a tricky implementation of new rules created by the county board.
It took about two years for county board members to rewrite the county's ethics code. The time span was needed mostly as the result of opinions by two separate Kane County state's attorneys that said large portions of the ethics code county board members wanted to implement wasn't legally enforceable. County board members, however, decided after much debate not to modify the ethics code. Doing so would have put board members in the politically difficult position of voting to weaken an ethics code to make it legally defensible. Instead, board members essentially told officials, employees and the community to challenge the law in court if they really wanted weaker ethics in Kane County.
On Monday, a county board committee took the next step in implementing the new ethics code in the first review of the person who will temporarily be in charge of reviewing the merit of ethics complaints. Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay is seeking approval of the appointment of Grant S. Wegner to be the temporary ethics adviser.
The adviser under the old ethics code, former Chief Judge Gene Nottolini, resigned rather than undergo the difficult process of retraining all 1,300 county employees on the new ethics rules. Wegner, a Yorkville resident, served as a judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit, which includes Kane County, from 1986 until his retirement in 2009. That includes a stint as chief judge. McConnaughay said she chose Wegner on the recommendation of current Chief Judge Robert Spence.
Wegner told the board he's willing and anxious to proceed with ethics training for county employees and officials. There's evidence that it may have been awhile since anyone received ethics training in Kane County. County board member Deb Allan said she can't recall any ethics training since 2002. Wegner suggested there are more issues to the ethics training than just a time gap.
"There is going to be an interesting issue, and that's that you have advice from the state's attorney's office that there's going to be some conflict," Wegner said. "To some degree, people have to be made aware of that in the training."
Wegner said it's possible that officials and/or employees might look at the state's attorney's opinion that say the ethics code is unenforceable and read that to mean they don't really have to follow the new rules. Wegner said his advice to anyone who takes that opinion will be clear.
"If you think you want to go down that road, talk to a lawyer," Wegner said.
The full county board, which meets next Sept. 11, must still approve Wegner's appointment.