Lauzen grills Kane Coroner Russell on Silly Putty, other costs
The makers of Silly Putty describe the children's toy as a nontoxic substance, but Kane County officials showed Friday it can be poisonous to budget discussions.
One day after Coroner Rob Russell announced the successful accreditation of his department, county board Chairman Chris Lauzen accused him of wasting taxpayer dollars on Silly Putty and raises.
The criticism came as Russell presented his proposed 2015 budget, which he said is in flux because DuPage County is hosting Kane County's morgue operations while mold is being taken care of at Russell's facility. But Lauzen indicated the only delay in setting a final budget for the coroner's office should involve slashing more unnecessary expenses.
Lauzen pointed to a 40 percent pay raise -- roughly $19,000 -- for Russell's chief deputy and the fact that Russell's office has nearly as many vehicles as employees. Lauzen also questioned the need for a compliance officer, the hiring of St. Charles Republican Party Chairman Ken Shepro as a financial adviser, and the spending $1,221 on Silly Putty.
"You spent $1,221 on Silly Putty," Lauzen said. "To me, this would be an example of money taxpayers would say shouldn't be spent."
Russell said the Silly Putty was purchased as "trinkets" to entertain children who visit his office or to hand out during community events. He said Lauzen's criticism of the Silly Putty purchase is just another example of overzealous scrutiny he's faced since taking office.
Russell said he has more rebuilding to do in his office than most county departments because he followed an administration that was under indictment. A big part of the necessary rebuilding, Russell said, is moving to a bigger, better morgue.
But Lauzen and the members of the county board's judicial and public safety committee told Russell Friday he isn't getting a new building anytime soon. They unanimously agreed to hold Russell's budget flat in 2015.
Russell agreed to a flat budget for three years starting last year, but his 2015 budget proposal calls for between $26,000 and $104,000 in increased spending, depending on which draft Russell will stick to.
Russell said he's finding it hard to live up to the agreement because a large part of his expenses related to mandated autopsies.
"I'm not going to make a decision on an autopsy based on finances," Russell said. "That's like a law enforcement officer saying we're not going to arrest people because we don't have money. We do autopsies based on stringent standards. If we don't do them when they are needed, there are possible legal ramifications."
The decision process for determining when an autopsy is needed is the next facet of Russell's duties that will receive scrutiny. Lauzen also announced he will hire former Kane County Coroner Mary Lou Kearns, at a cost of up to $20,000, to review autopsies Russell has signed off on in the past.
The idea is to determine how to reduce the number and/or cost of autopsies and keep Russell's budget flat.
Committee Chairman Barb Wojnicki called for a return to civil discourse no matter what the autopsy audit shows.
"I can certainly see both sides," she said. "I've been here for 16 years now, and our coroner's office has been absolutely a neglected office."