Pending changes to Kane County's long-standing hiring freeze policy would provide more freedom to department directors to add staffing if doing so wouldn't increase their budgets. The changes, however, might also strip away some of the scrutiny new hires receive.
Such scrutiny has been magnified in recent weeks after board Chairman Chris Lauzen's hiring of a political ally.
The county board instituted a hiring freeze in 2008 when it became clear the economy was headed downhill. Since then, every hire is supposed to come before the county board for approval.
But that hasn't always happened. Departments run by other elected officers, including the former circuit court clerk, have added to their staffs without county approval. With evidence of other lax compliance during the freeze, the current county board wants to clarify the hiring freeze policy.
Department directors, under the guidance of Lauzen, suggested a slew of modifications Wednesday. Departments run by elected officials would be officially exempted from the policy, although state law already provides for that exemption.
New hires would also be allowed without county board approval when the person is filling a position at a salary level already budgeted. There will also be an exemption whenever a department head and the chairman of the committee that person reports to determines an "emergency or critical need" exists to hire someone.
Such an emergency could be anything from the sudden death of a snowplow operator during a heavy snow season to the creation of a new billing manager position in the county's animal control department.
It's the second instance, in animal control, that brought the hiring freeze under scrutiny in the first place. Lauzen added a new $52,000 temporary billing manager position to the department's payroll and told Health Department Executive Director Barb Jeffers to hire his political ally, Robert Sauceda, for the position. The hiring was made without a vote after the board rejected Lauzen's nomination of Sauceda to be the new director of animal control.
Under the proposed changes to the hiring freeze, Sauceda's hiring would have come before the board for a ratification vote at the first meeting after the hiring. However, also under the clarifications suggested by Lauzen, the board might never have been told it was Sauceda they were hiring to be the billing manager.
"One other point to clarify is if the approval is on the position or the person," Lauzen told a county board committee Wednesday. "The intention of this committee and the board in the past is, as long as it is not an executive director, it is the position and the salary you approve, not an individual person. That is the prerogative of the director, or else it becomes a micromanaged position."
In an interview, county board member Mark Davoust said not letting county board members know who specifically will be hired for a position creates too many potential ethical problems.
"In this era where we are concerned with government being more transparent, it's almost impossible to separate the position from the person," Davoust said.
Davoust also said he hopes the next time county board members discuss the pending hiring freeze revisions there will be some consideration of placing the hiring freeze into county code. That way, Davoust said, real penalties can be attached to violating the hiring freeze provisions.
The county board's finance committee will be the next group to review the pending changes to the hiring freeze.
Freeze: 'It's almost impossible to separate the position from the person'