Kane coroner's hiring of ex-McConnaughay staffer questioned
The website of JNB Strategies says its employees "understand that 'Do more with less' has become the unofficial tagline of the public sector across the country." Some Kane County officials believe Coroner Rob Russell's budget could do more with less of JNB Strategies.
The Elburn-based company is owned by Jennifer Baustian, a former director of the county's 911 communications when Karen McConnaughay was Kane County Board chairman. Baustian then for a short time was part of the Republican party's staff when McConnaughay became a state senator. Now Baustian runs JNB Strategies, which provides communications and marketing for small businesses and the public sector.
Russell hired Baustian on a part-time basis at about $125 per hour, after layoffs of a compliance officer and an administrative secretary to cut costs. The county has not yet received any bills for Baustian's services.
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, who has disparaged McConnaughay's tenure as chairman, urged a committee of board members to reject Baustian's contract Thursday.
"I heard the coroner hired a press secretary," Lauzen said. "If it's been properly described, I wouldn't think the committee would support it. I would hope we'd say we are not going to honor those invoices when they come in."
Members of the county board's Judicial and Public Safety Committee voiced skepticism about the contract Thursday, reigniting disputes about Russell's budget that had recently gone dormant.
Much of the financial focus relates to salaries and autopsy costs that continue to run over budget. Lauzen recently went as far as to spend money out of his own office's budget to hire a former coroner as a consultant to review the number of autopsies Russell has authorized. The effort yielded no change in expenses.
The critiques faded when the board found a bigger budget fish to fry during the creation of a $2.5 million budget gap in the sheriff's office. With that problem addressed, Russell is regaining attention.
In a phone interview, Russell said he brought Baustian on for a couple of hours a week to help with media releases and website content as well as ensure the office is meeting compliance standards. Baustian's hourly fee is much cheaper than keeping a full-time employee on staff with benefits, he said.
"Her salary is ridiculously low," Russell said. "All my current staff are at the point where they cannot do another thing. These things she's doing need to get done."
Russell said the cost to taxpayers will at least have a product to show for the effort, unlike Lauzen's hiring of a consultant to review the autopsies.
"That was a complete waste of taxpayer money," Russell said. "I thought that was the end of this budget stuff. If they didn't understand the contract (with Baustian), they should have contacted me. Instead, we're going to go backward now and play this stupid game again?"
Russell said he will present his full rationale for hiring Baustian at the county board's Finance Committee meeting June 24.