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updated: 2/18/2014 7:33 PM

New conflict brews over raises for Kane officials

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Kane County Board members are on a need-to-know basis for information regarding Chairman Chris Lauzen's new plan to give raises to high-level county employees under his direct supervision.

Lauzen told officials Tuesday they, for now, needed to know about pay increases only for two department heads.

Lauzen is seeking 5 percent raises for Barb Jeffers and Don Bryant. Jeffers is the recently appointed executive director of the county's health department. She also was the point person who made the controversial hire of interim Animal Control Supervisor Robert Sauceda at Lauzen's direction.

Bryant is the longtime director of the county's office of emergency management.

Jeffers' proposed raise would increase her salary and benefits by a total of $6,499. The raise for Bryant will cost taxpayers $3,246 more in salary and benefits.

Lauzen told members of the Public Health Committee many of the highest-level county employees are poorly compensated compared to their peers in neighboring counties. He cited the recent loss of a director and several managers to other counties and municipalities offering better wages as part of the need for the raises.

For example, Lauzen said the current average annual salary for Jeffers' position in neighboring counties is about $141,000. Jeffers earns about $109,000. The current average salary for Bryant's position is $112,000 and Bryant makes $65,000.

"Our work here is to protect the tremendous talent that we have," Lauzen said. "It's a wonderful opportunity to get to work with all of us, but that doesn't go so far."

It wasn't the amount of the raises or even the people receiving them that some committee members had a problem with -- it was the lack of information about how the new expenses factor into the overall budget, where the money will come from, and how many employees Lauzen is targeting for the raises.

"Generally, all this is done in the budget process," committee member Myrna Molina said in addressing Lauzen. "This year, you decided we weren't going to give anybody a raise (in the budget). Now, all of a sudden we have a surplus of money, but we're still not provided the whole information on how the money is going to be divided.

"I need to know the full picture. When I buy a puzzle, I see the full picture on the box. That's how I decide to buy the individual pieces. We don't know what the full picture looks like here."

County board members may be extra sensitive about raises for the county's highest-level employees. The county faced a lawsuit stemming from raises received by employees in many of those same positions during the tenure of the former county board chairman, Karen McConnaughay.

Lauzen was not willing to provide a full list of employees he will seek raises for nor details on where the money will come from. He said those details will come when the individual raises are proposed.

"The aggregate is not in front of you today," Lauzen said. "It's about the philosophy of adequately compensating for achievement. That's the question that's before you. What's the whole? The whole will be what you determine it to be."

When committee members tried to table the vote to force Lauzen to provide the additional detail, he warned such a delay would send a message to county employees that suggested their work was not valued.

"It's a delay, and in my opinion it's a bad symbol," Lauzen said. "It shows a disconnect between the applause and then, when we do the nitty-gritty, let's complicate it."

With that message, the committee voted 3 to 2 to send the raise proposal on to the next committee. Molina and Melisa Taylor cast the "no" votes.

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