Apprehension toward a plan to dump Kane County's hiring process in favor of a more streamlined plan that would allow elected officials to interview candidates for top-level positions vanished Wednesday without any public knowledge or scrutiny until the final vote.
County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen began the push for the change last week in response to the resignation of Facilities and Development Director Tim Harbaugh. The new plan, however, would replace an ordinance put in place just last year in response to a lawsuit alleging former chairman Karen McConnaughay gave large raises to 14 employees without county board approval.
Part of McConnaughay's defense to that lawsuit (which was dismissed) was that the salary increase came as a result of reclassifying the duties of the employees and giving them more responsibility. Board members, last October, rewrote a portion of the county code the Kane County State's Attorney's Office said was "ambiguous." The rewrite county board members approved said the county board chairman can request raises for department heads, but the raises must be approved by three subcommittees before getting a vote by the full county board.
Lauzen's plan focuses on the hiring of department directors but once again gives the chairman more power to determine the duties of the directors and what their salary should be.
If the new process is approved, this is how it would work to hire a new county development director:
• First, a three-member committee of Lauzen, the county's human resources director and the chairman of the county board's development committee would define the duties of the position, establish the salary based on the department's budget and narrow the list of applicants to a handful of finalists.
• Next, Lauzen would select two more board members to join the original three-member committee to select a final candidate. Lauzen said, ideally, those two board members would also be members of the development committee. However, he doesn't want the meetings of the committee to fall under the Open Meetings Act. That act would require prior public notice of the meeting as well as disclosure of the time and place it would occur. Lauzen wants to keep that information confidential so the identities of applicants aren't known until no more than 24 hours before a final county board vote. Lauzen has said a leak during the hiring for the county's finance director position caused his first choice to drop out of the process.
• That five-member task force would then reach a consensus on a candidate and bring that name to the full county board for a vote.
Lauzen hailed the plan as both streamlining the process and insurance against the county board chairman "running away with the hiring process."
"We're trying to get a check and balance on the system, and I think this is a good one," Lauzen said.
County board member Myrna Molina agreed to the new system as long as department head raises remain a separate issue that goes through the full committee process. Molina was one of the board members who had the most initial reservations about the plan last week. On Wednesday, she said it is important for the county board and the chairman to agree on the best hiring process.
"We are responsible to the taxpayers; it should be done transparently," Molina said. "And anyone who works for a public agency should know that it's going to be public regardless."
Board member Doug Scheflow said the proposed new process includes a little bit of what everyone is looking for.
"It's transparent, but it's closed and confidential," Scheflow said.