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posted: 1/14/2014 5:55 PM

Another Kane County hire, another round of questions

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Another high-level hiring by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen faced a gauntlet of questions Tuesday as board members inquired about fuzzy cost savings associated with the move and a perceived lack of prior notice.

Don Biggs is now the operations staff executive for the county. The new position combines oversight of Mill Creek with a construction management consultant function. Biggs comes to the county after a little more than a year as the director of facility operation services for Plainfield Unit District 202. He previously served in similar roles in school districts in DeKalb, St. Charles, Oak Lawn and Northbrook.

Lauzen hired Biggs on an interim basis several weeks ago as part of a staff restructuring. The change followed two staff departures that occurred in rapid succession.

Tim Harbaugh formerly oversaw both county facilities and the development department until he left for a job with DuPage County. Then, John Lochbaum, who oversaw Mill Creek, turned in his resignation. The duties of those two men will now be split among three people. Mark VanKerkhoff, who previously headed up the development department, will reassume that role. He was paid $109,140 in 2013. Mary Remiyac, who previously served at the county's chief building engineer, will oversee facilities and receive a 28 percent raise (going from $55,000 to $70,380) to reflect her expanded duties. Biggs will oversee Mill Creek. He will receive a base salary of $106,000. Lochbaum was paid about $46,000 to oversee Mill Creek.

Mill Creek is in county board Vice Chairman Drew Frasz' district. He said the 131 percent difference between Lochbaum's and Biggs' salaries reflects Biggs' construction project management skills.

"He is not replacing someone on an apples-to-apples basis," Frasz said. "We set some goals for Mill Creek three years ago that have since been accomplished. So that was a 40-hour (per week) position, but it can now probably be accomplished in half that time."

Lauzen said he needs Biggs to be an adviser on big ticket construction projects such as the ongoing heating and cooling problem at the judicial center.

Though he did not detail where the cost savings comes from, Lauzen said ultimately the hiring of Biggs and the staff realignment is 7 percent cheaper than replacing Harbaugh and Lochbaum with people fulfilling the same roles. But some county board members had a tough time grasping how they will measure the quality of Biggs' work going forward. Board member Mark Davoust said Biggs' hiring should have gone through multiple committees so he could be thoroughly vetted. Most board members only received notice of Biggs' hiring and resume Friday evening.

"That made me uncomfortable that I hadn't done my homework on this person," said board member Melisa Taylor. "It hasn't gone through the committees so we can understand what's happening at all."

Lauzen said the process that was used is the same process board members signed off on through Lauzen's initiative last year that allowed him to speed through some hiring.

"Nobody is trying to pull over anything on anybody," Lauzen said.

Board member Cristina Castro said she was concerned about media reports regarding a seemingly abrupt resignation by Biggs from his Plainfield job. School board members, at the time, refused to comment.

"It raises a little bit of a 'Hmm,' " Castro said.

Lauzen said Biggs left to escape a conflicted work atmosphere.

"There was tension between the administration of the school district and the school board," Lauzen said. "Don was placed in what he recognized as an impossible position. You can't serve two masters."

Lauzen said a reference check with Plainfield yielded a glowing recommendation.

Davoust and Taylor were the lone "no" votes on Biggs' hiring.

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