Kane board wants some leeway

More than 80 percent of Kane County's employees are outside the direct control of the county board. Led by county board Chairman Chris Lauzen, some board members are making a move to get more control.

Finances are tight for 2017 and 2018. Board members are paying more attention to credit card spending, travel costs and filling vacant jobs. But they only have direct control over those issues for departments not run by elected officials. The auditor, circuit court clerk, coroner, county clerk, recorder, sheriff, state's attorney and treasurer can all spend money as they see fit once the county board sets the budget for their offices.

Lauzen said that makes the job of balancing the budget each year very difficult. The board has only one shot to rein in spending in the elected offices each year when they set those budgets. At least, that's what they've been told by State's Attorney Joe McMahon. In a reversal of opinions he expressed several months ago, Lauzen said McMahon's staff is “highly competent.” But he'd like another opinion on how much authority he and the county board have.

“We have a dilemma in the exercise of the authority of the board,” Lauzen said. “You think that you have the authority, and you should have the authority. But do you, practically, have the authority? The Kane County handbook doesn't apply to 80 to 85 percent of our employees. So credit card limits, travel reimbursement ... I don't know how anyone would expect to run an organization with some policies unless those policies are duplicated by each department.”

Lauzen ran afoul of the law last year when he hired an outside law firm to explore ideas for the county to bring in more money without raising taxes. The state's attorney is the lawyer for the county board. McMahon must approve any payment of an outside legal counsel. Lauzen said there is a clear conflict of interest in McMahon interpreting laws in ways that would give away any of his office's authority. Lauzen and the board must ask McMahon for permission to seek an independent opinion.

“We've got to know what rules we're playing by, and then we'll play by them,” Lauzen said.

McMahon wasn't present for the board's discussion. In an interview, he said he'll consider whatever question the board brings to him. But the law that lays out who has power over each area of county government is clear, McMahon said. Several different Illinois attorney generals made sure of that.

“There has not been a change in the internal control law in decades,” McMahon said. “The opinion that was issued by the attorney general about 30 years ago was based on a series of other opinions. There's a long history of direction from multiple attorney generals about the limits of a county board's ability to influence decision making and operational decision within (another elected office).”

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