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updated: 9/18/2013 9:40 PM

Jobs agency members subpoenaed as Kane County pitches overhaul

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A Kendall County grand jury has demanded attendance, mileage and reimbursement records for 11 current and former board members of an agency that handles up to $6 million in federal money designed to put unemployed residents in Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties back to work.

The request is yet another potential black eye for an organization that may soon see a major restructuring as envisioned by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen.

A 40-member board with representatives from each of the counties oversees the River Valley Workforce Investment Board. It manages "one-stops," including the Kane County Department of Employment and Education, where qualified unemployed workers can receive scholarships for retraining that will place them in high-demand careers.

Investment board members interviewed Wednesday said the grand jury requested records related to an ongoing forensic audit and a sheriff's office probe of Kendall County Board members' per diem reimbursements.

That investigation began after a complaint filed against Dan Koukol that alleges he submitting dozens of per diem reimbursement claims that he was not entitled to. Koukol also is a member of the workforce investment board.

The subpoena, which is posted on the investment board's website, names Koukol, Bob Davidson, Elizabeth Flowers, Jessie Hafenrichter, Nancy Martin, Pam Parr, Suzanne Patrella, Anne Vickery and Jeff Wehrli. All are current or former Kendall County Board members who also serve or served on the investment board.

The subpoena also names former Kendall County Board Chairman John Purcell and current Chairman John Shaw. The county board chairmen share appointment authority for the investment board, but Kane County controls 70 percent of the membership because of its larger population.

In that regard, Lauzen has spent the past few months appointing new members to the investment board, including his unofficial volunteer chief of staff, Aurora businessman Dick Hawks. He is set to become the vice chairman of the investment board.

Lauzen is also pitching a major restructuring. His idea is to bring a "consortium model" to the organization. A major component of the plan would eliminate the existing administration and staffing of the investment board.

Instead, the three counties would provide staffing to "eliminate the redundant administrative expenses" and oversee the federal dollars. Lauzen said in a recent interview his plan would shift $320,000 away from administrative costs and put it into training for unemployed residents.

"Where there have been dissatisfactions in the past, there really doesn't need to be," Lauzen said. "Unfortunately, the redundancies in management have led to greater complexities."

Lauzen said getting his plan implemented won't be easy. Investment board members have concerns that federal law prohibits Lauzen's proposed staffing arrangement.

There is also a conflict of interest question as the salaries of the county staff members suggested by Lauzen to oversee the federal dollars come from that same pool of money.

Lauzen will address those issues at a meeting with the investment board, the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

A restructuring may be easier in the wake of the resignations of investment board Chairman Barb Ladner and Executive Director Tracy McDonnell in June. McDonnell cited a "great deal of discomfort personally and professionally" stemming from Lauzen's restructuring plan and Kane County's refusal to process the paperwork for her salary adjustment to $91,000. McDonnell did not respond to an interview request.

Lauzen's plan would be the second reorganization of the board. In 2011, the Kane County Board changed which county office interacted with the investment board. That plan followed an audit that found improper self-governance resulting in investment board officials being unable to account for all the money the agency received.

Current investment board Chairman Mark Thate did not immediately respond to an interview request.

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