Without naming names, Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Lulves ruled Wednesday Robert Sauceda was improperly hired as the temporary new billing manager for the county's animal control department.
The ruling affirmed criticism lobbed by several county board members during the past couple of weeks regarding Sauceda's hiring being in violation of the county's hiring freeze. Board members have also cited discomfort with Sauceda's political ties to County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Lauzen's presentation of Sauceda as the only candidate Public Health Executive Director Barb Jeffers could hire for the $52,000 position.
Lulves didn't speak to those aspects during the Human Services Committee meeting, ruling only on the violation of the county's hiring freeze ordinance.
"On the face of the resolution, we don't really see any exemptions for temporary hires," Lulves said. "Everyone should be coming before the board."
But that doesn't mean Lauzen faces any trouble. Lulves told county board member and committee Chairman Cristina Castro no law was broken in Sauceda's hiring. In fact, the ordinance is so murky even the county board hasn't been following the requirement that calls for a review of the hiring freeze every six months. The county board put the freeze in place in 2008. It hasn't reviewed it since.
Lulves and Human Resources Director Sheila McCraven said there are compliance problems with the ordinance.
"It says no new hires, and then in the very next paragraph we have all these exemptions carved out," McCraven said. "Sometimes people have come before the board asking for exceptions and others have not.
"Overwhelmingly, it's elected officials overseeing departments that have been doing the majority of hiring. Those are officials you have no control over. The spirit of the resolution was that everyone would come before the committee. That isn't really how it's been done since 2008."
McCraven also said the county board has approved almost every requested deviation from the hiring freeze. The committee agreed it is time to clarify and amend the policy. There was a general agreement that micromanaging should be avoided. The focus should be on new hires, changes to department structures and any employee movement that causes expenses to rise, board members said.
"I don't think the goal is to be obstructive," county board member Mark Davoust. "But we had a long discussion with our ethics policy about the importance of transparency and disclosure, and the same thing applies in this."
The hiring freeze will now move to a review by the county board's Finance Committee, where amendments can be offered. The ongoing debate will keep Sauceda's hiring fresh on the minds of elected officials.
As Lauzen watched from the side of the boardroom, the committee took clear pains to avoid using Sauceda's name. In an interview, Castro said the state's attorney's office said any specific reference to Sauceda would force the meeting into a closed-door executive session. But there's no doubt Sauceda's hiring is fueling the review of the hiring freeze because concerns remain, she said.
"A brand-new position like that needs to come before us because it has a budget impact," Castro said. "Anything new, whatever it is, should come before us."
Lulves said he had no immediate opinion on the county board's ability to fire Sauceda or any potential legal action. Castro said if the board fired Sauceda it would probably have to fire all the other employees who were hired in violation of the ordinance during the past four years.
"Are you just going to wipe everyone out?" Castro said. "Probably not."
Both Davoust and county board member Jesse Vazquez said their concerns about Sauceda's hiring were confirmed by Lulves' ruling. Vazquez said there are issues with the political connections, but the discussion now should focus on the process.
"It's not personal," Vazquez said. "This is business. It's about are we going to follow our procedures or not."
Violate: Sauceda unlikely to be fired, committee chairman says