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updated: 3/13/2014 4:25 PM

Kane deputy clerk suspended for using county email for campaign

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  • Jack Cunningham, left, and Mark Davoust are candidates in the race for Kane County clerk.

      Jack Cunningham, left, and Mark Davoust are candidates in the race for Kane County clerk.

 
 

A Kane County deputy clerk has been suspended for a week without pay after he sent an email from his work computer to a state official to correct a campaign contribution error.

Jack Cunningham, who is seeking his fourth term as county clerk, maintained deputy clerk Jeff Ward sent the email on his own time Wednesday but still had to be reprimanded.

"It was an inadvertent mistake, but I want to send a message," said Cunningham. "I'm not happy with it. I've taken adequate steps in my mind. It was an error and it's not acceptable."

Mark Davoust, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for county clerk in Tuesday's primary, said he planned to bring the matter to the county's ethics adviser.

He said Cunningham's explanation was "disingenuous" and said taxpayers should be "insulted" with the "slap on the wrist" given to Ward.

"Ignorance of it and inept management followed by political double talk is not acceptable," said Davoust, a county board member since 2004. "It would appear that it's being put squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Ward. I don't think that's a full response from Mr. Cunningham."

Ward acknowledged he could have used a different email account.

"It's innocent. In retrospect, I probably should have not used the county's computer," Ward said. "I was on a (coffee) break, but I was doing it on my (work) computer."

The email, which was posted this week on the Illinois State Board of Elections website, was sent by Ward to a state election official confirming that Ward had filled out a form to correct a $15,000 loan that Cunningham made to his own campaign.

The loan was mistakenly identified Monday as a $150,000 contribution to Cunningham's campaign.

Ward said he fixed the error after state officials reached out to Cunningham's campaign, saying a contribution of $150,000 required a special form to be filled out.

"I have deleted the offending $150,000 loan amount from the Cunningham for County Clerk online file and re-entered it in the appropriate $15,000 amount," Ward wrote to a state election official in the email at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

The email was cc'd to Cunningham and sent from Ward's county email address. He also signed it as "Jeff Ward Deputy Clerk."

Ward said the title "deputy clerk" is included in all emails sent from his county account. He said he was able to correct the mistake with the state and send the email during his 15-minute coffee break.

Cunningham said Ward corresponded with state officials during a work break.

"They all get coffee breaks and lunch breaks. What they do on that time is their own business," Cunningham said of the employees in his office. "The policy of the office is you don't use county equipment while you're on county time to do political things."

Davoust said Ward has every right to work on his boss's campaign -- just as long as it's on his personal time and not the county's.

Davoust said didn't believe Ward did all that on his coffee break.

"Nine-forty-five in the morning ... that sounds like working hours to me," Davoust said. "It's troubling that Mr. Cunningham is copied on the email, which is evidence he was aware this was going on in his office."

A message left with former Kane County Judge Grant Wegner, the county's interim ethics adviser, was not immediately returned.

Candidates making their own contributions or loans to their campaigns is common.

Davoust and his wife made $69,000 in contributions to his campaign since Feb. 17, state records show. Brasel Products, a Batavia business of which Davoust is vice president, also contributed $5,000 to his campaign, records show.

The winner of the primary election will advance to the Nov. 4 election. No Democrat has yet filed to run for county clerk.

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