After 10 months of debate and behind-the-scenes political wrangling, Robert Sauceda became Kane County's new animal control director Tuesday, but only on an "interim" basis.
The interim designation means Sauceda officially has the job for one year or until a more qualified candidate can be identified, according to the hiring resolution. Such a candidate is unlikely to surface as county board Chairman Chris Lauzen told board members he has no intention of advertising the position while Sauceda still wants the job. The interim designation was created to appease any lingering doubts about the appointment, Lauzen said.
"I'm confident that Rob is going to continue his great performance," Lauzen said.
Sauceda comes into the director role having served as the agency's billing manager for most of this year.
Lauzen created the billing manager position and hired Sauceda for the job after the county board rejected Lauzen's initial attempt to appoint him animal control director in December 2012. At the time, a majority of the board said they wanted to avoid the appearance of cronyism in hiring Sauceda as he campaigned alongside Lauzen on the "Reform Kane" slate. Lauzen denied any political favors, saying he pushed for Sauceda because of his work ethic and character.
On Tuesday, the majority of county board members said Sauceda's success in increasing agency revenue while cutting its expenses was all the proof they needed to hire him as director. But county board member Mike Donahue said he couldn't shake that odor of cronyism he felt back in December. He was one of the two "no" votes Tuesday. Jesse Vazquez was the other.
"I'm hard-pressed to understand how the past 10 months have so dramatically altered the circumstances of when this appointment was rejected," Donahue said. "I don't believe the public has a short-term memory in regard to those issues."
The circumstances may have been altered by a host of political maneuvers.
Perhaps the biggest move involved state Sen. Kirk Dillard calling county board member Mark Davoust to urge him to take a second look at Sauceda's candidacy. Dillard, who is in the middle of a gubernatorial campaign, said he reached out to Davoust after Sauceda wrote him a letter detailing his vision for animal control. Sauceda asked Dillard to see if he could cut through any political tension between Davoust and Lauzen that might damage his chances for the director job. Davoust has been one of the most vocal critics of Lauzen's efforts to hire Sauceda.
Dillard said he knows Sauceda through a former campaign worker.
"Robert and I just wanted to make sure he was being considered on his credentials and not being up caught up in politics," Dillard said.
Davoust did not attend the vote Tuesday.
County board member Maggie Auger didn't get a phone call from Dillard. But, while shying away from specifics, she indicated other political moves were put in place, leading her to shift from her "no" vote in December and vote "present" on Tuesday.
"I voted 'present' because I was elected to represent the people and not play political games," Auger said.
There was also internal maneuvering involved with Sauceda's selection, according to one former animal control employee. Lauren Bluestone was an eight-year employee who recently resigned; she said she twice applied for the director's job and did not get an interview. Bluestone has two master's degrees and is now the animal control supervisor for Newport News, Va.
"From the day he started at animal control, Rob was going around saying he was going to get this job," Bluestone said. "And he was put in as a billing manager to get his foot in the door and given unimaginable resources, as far as people helping him, so he could succeed.
"He was given an opportunity no one else could get. I'm not here to speak negatively about Rob, but I do feel there were probably a lot more better-qualified applicants that would make a better fit for that job.
But because it came from the highest level, there was this head honcho thing that said this is how it's going to be."
Sauceda could not be reached for comment.
Lauzen said Sauceda had the support of not only the majority of his co-workers but also the veterinarian the county contracts with. Indeed, Lauzen read snippets of letters from two animal control employees speaking of Sauceda in glowing terms.
"The bottom line is revenues are up $146,700 in that department with Rob, and expenses are down about $67,000," Lauzen said. "That means the mortgage payment (on the animal control shelter) will be made, and no county subsidy will be needed.
"Rob Sauceda is an excellent appointment."