Kane board panel considers not paying bills outside coroner's budget

Updated 7/8/2015 5:25 PM

Kane County Board members strengthened their resolve to rein in Coroner Rob Russell's spending Wednesday, with the executive committee recommending the county not pay bills for non-mandatory work exceeding the office's budget appropriation.

Russell, however, called the move "ceremonial," saying 97 percent of his expenses are related to work he is mandated by law to do. Also, he said, the county board already has this authority.


Still, the recommendation should not be lost on other officeholders.

"This is an approach to at least put people on notice that the board does have power over non-statutory-mandated spending," Chairman Chris Lauzen said.

"Just because you are elected to office doesn't mean that you spend the tax dollars any way you see fit," board member Theresa Barreiro said.

And board member Kurt Kojzarek said that if he were running a department or office, the resolution "would tell me not to expand the role of my office outside of statutory authority," he said.

But board member Mark Davoust questioned whether the county was opening itself up to lawsuits from vendors if it refuses to pay bills for services rendered. He also questioned whether the county could stop payment before the coroner's appropriation is used up, based merely on projections of overspending, as the resolution states.

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"You're not really over (budget) until you are over," Davoust said.

After the meeting, McMahon said if asked, he would recommend the county pay bills -- even those for unmandated items or services -- as long as there is money in the appropriation.

The full board will vote on the resolution July 14.

The resolution came up after board members learned last month Russell intends to hire a consultant, at $75 to $90 an hour, to develop a website for the office, write news releases and act as a compliance officer. Russell contends the cost would be offset by his recent firing of two deputy coroners and a compliance officer.

Last year, Lauzen criticized Russell's spending on travel to conferences, the hiring of a financial adviser, and for spending $1,221 on Silly Putty (Russell said it was given to children visiting the office.) He also questioned the increased number of autopsies the office conducted, and hired former coroner Mary Lou Kearns to review them to see if they were necessary.

Russell said the whole discussion just boils down to what he has been saying since June 2013: Previous coroners had lower budgets because they did not do the job according to current standards.

"That still has not been dealt with," Russell said.

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