Kane chairman, coroner get into argument over expenses
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Coroner Rob Russell got into a heated argument after a committee meeting Friday in which Lauzen continued to question Russell's budget by focusing on Russell's $1,400 trip to Las Vegas.
Russell's budget, both for the current budget year and 2015, is a sore spot for the county's finances and has fueled tensions between Russell and Lauzen. Projections show Russell will blow his current budget by $121,000 this year.
And on Friday, Russell said he he'll need a midyear budget increase in 2015. He blames a lack of adequate funding for autopsies, a history of "inappropriate" payment methods for his staff and wasted expenses on an out-of-date facility.
"The overages from my office were not caused from reckless spending," Russell said. "We are experiencing some growing pains. Our office was like a sick child. But the child is healthy now, and the child needs new shoes. So do we have a $120,000 overage? Or is it a notice that the office is $120,000 underfunded?"
Lauzen says it's the former. Earlier this year he voiced suspicions about Russell conducting unnecessary autopsies. An outside consultant will investigate that suspicion with a review of death files next month.
Last month, Lauzen tweaked Russell for spending $1,221 on Silly Putty for kids who visit the office. On Friday, he called Russell's recent attendance of a Las Vegas training convention for coroners an extravagance.
"I would respectfully request that when you're over budget … eliminate all out-of-state travel," Lauzen said. "If I were you, if it had been anywhere outside of the Midwest I would have declined to go."
Lauzen also chastised Russell for hiring St. Charles Republican Party Chairman Ken Shepro as a financial adviser. Shepro was part of the legal team that defended the county during the lawsuit with former circuit court Clerk Deb Seyller, a skirmish that cost taxpayers more than $350,000.
"Please point out what his financial expertise is, outside of that experience, which was a very unfortunate circumstance," Lauzen said.
That set that stage for a confrontation of Lauzen against Russell and Shepro after the meeting. As members of the media questioned Russell, Lauzen jumped in with additional criticism of the Las Vegas trip and Shepro's qualifications. That triggered a heated response.
"I have more budget experience with county budgets than Chairman Lauzen and (Finance) Director Joe Onzick combined," Shepro replied.
He challenged Lauzen's assertion that he trimmed the non-payroll expenses in his office by 50 percent during the past two years.
"You simply zeroed-out the contingency line item," Shepro said. "And everything else, all the other expenses are actually up. ... It was supposed to be a grant he didn't get. That's not savings. ... It's just like the Springfield accounting."
Lauzen replied: "I'm not going to be examined by a contractor under, I believe, a false title. I know you claim the (financial) experience, and I say the experience cost the taxpayers $350,000."
After Lauzen walked away, Russell said the exchange was an example of why he doesn't want any private, one-on-one meetings with Lauzen.
"Things get misconstrued, and he has a history of doing that," Russell said.
"I don't really want to continue with the dog and pony show," Russell said. "I want real discussions that have accountability. I have nothing to hide. Anything that I say to him, I can say in front of the public."