Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen on Thursday called for a more streamlined and confidential process for hiring senior-level county staff members.
The pending plan would strip the majority of county board members of their ability to review and question the people Lauzen wants to hire until the final full county board vote.
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Lauzen said the change is needed because some board members have contacted candidates to dissuade them from taking county positions and leaked details of closed-door discussions to the media.
A policy change at the end of the tenure of former county board Chairman Karen McConnaughay created a process where anyone the chairman wants to hire as a department director must be screened by the full county board committee to which the director reports. Then the county board's finance and executive committees vet the candidate before the full county board votes.
Lauzen said there are too many opportunities for candidate information to leak out through that multistage process.
"When two people know something, it is no longer a secret," Lauzen said. "When seven people know it, it is practically a broadcast. I would ask you to consider what highly qualified applicant with any kind of common sense at all, and is employed, would expose her or his family to the risk of rejection and public humiliation of going through those areas of approval."
Several members of the county board's administration committee pointed to the recent hiring of Joe Onzick as the county's new finance director as an example of the current process working. Lauzen said it's true Onzick is a great employee, but his first choice bowed out of the process after an unnamed county board member advised her not to take the job.
County board member Deb Allan said that may not have been a bad thing.
"I can't imagine any of us going public in a way that would hurt someone else's employment," Allan said. "On the other hand, if the person that was considered for the job was uncomfortable with that level of scrutiny, then that person may not have been the best person for the job."
Lauzen agreed but said the county should move toward a process used by large corporations when hiring important employees.
"I would ask how many board members at Monsanto sat down in the interview when the president of the company was interviewed," Lauzen said.
"We represent the public; Monsanto doesn't," Allan countered.
Lauzen indicated his call for change has an immediate application. He told the committee he must replace a senior-level department leader as soon as possible. Development Director Tim Harbaugh has resigned to take a job in DuPage County. His last day is Oct. 25.
With Harbaugh's imminent departure, committee members said they would consider changing the hiring policy so only a five-member committee would review Lauzen's selection before a full county board vote.
The committee would consist of Lauzen, the chairman of the finance committee, the county's human resources director, the chairman of the committee the employee would report to, and an hoc member from that same committee. Administrative committee members will vote on the plan in a special meeting.
If approved, the full county board would vote on it next month.
In an interview after Thursday's meeting, Lauzen was asked why the county's hiring process should be more confidential than the more than 1,000 presidential appointments that are vetted on television during the U.S. Senate's confirmation process. Lauzen said the comparison doesn't apply.
"There's quite a bit of difference in the scale of government there," Lauzen said. "And so much of what's behind that is partisan, and we don't want to have that here. I'm asking who would apply to work for us if they had to bet that we are going to keep everything confidential? I would hope all my fellow elected officials could maintain that confidentiality. That has not been my experience in my short term here."