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updated: 8/24/2012 12:29 PM

Kane to change code on employee raises after lawsuit

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With one Kane County Board member calling a pending lawsuit against Chairman Karen McConnaughay a patriotic act, a committee of officials developed a change to county code that goes directly to the root of why the lawsuit was filed in the first place.

Jim MacRunnels, a political rival of McConnaughay, filed a lawsuit about raises the chairman gave during department reorganizations. MacRunnels contends the raises to the department heads will ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars in a move never agreed to by the county board. McConnaughay has said the reorganization saved taxpayers millions by eliminating 100 government jobs. She believes board members approved that plan several times in passing numerous county budgets.

In taking up a revision of the county code governing the raises in question, Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Joe Cullen said clarity is needed.

"This section of the county code is really ambiguous," Cullen said. "It is really hard to understand how employees' salaries are set. We should redraft it so everyone knows what it means."

But board members didn't favor Cullen's initial revision plan. His plan would've left department head raises as a matter for the county board chairman and the county board's Executive Committee to decide. That would leave about half the county board without a say.

Instead, board members said they are fine with the chairman initiating department head raises. That proposal would then come to the county board committee that deals most directly with the department head in question. If that committee agrees, then the raise would follow the normal committee process of going to Finance Committee and Executive Committee before a final vote by the full county board.

Board Member Hollie Lindgren said she hopes this proposed change eliminates any future lawsuits about pay raises. While not naming MacRunnels, she criticized his decision to force the county to spend tax dollars on fighting a lawsuit about the raises.

"I'm hoping that no one ever does this again, and they do the right thing and approach us and give us a chance to make these changes," Lindgren said.

Not every board member shared that view. Bonnie Kunkel said she still wasn't a fan of the new proposal because it involves the chairman still being the initial source of raises.

"Jim MacRunnels was a patriot in bringing this lawsuit," Kunkel said. "He did it in order to restore the power to the board. Think about what you're doing when you give the chairman the ability to set the salaries for your department heads. Only the chairman has the ability to give raises. Who do you expect the department heads to listen to? And who's secrets do you expect your department heads to sometimes keep? If you, as the board, want to maintain your power and maintain the integrity of your relationship with department heads, the board must retain this power."

Drew Frasz, the county board member overseeing the code revision, disagreed. He said he has no issue with the chairman being the initiator for raise discussions. But allowing for a full committee process review eliminates the chairman as the sole source for raise decisions, he said.

"With these changes, I think we've allowed for a system that has checks and balances on every level," Frasz said.

The proposed code revision still needs approval by the full county board before becoming the new law.

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