Kane state's attorney trying to keep coroner spending battle out of court

 
 
Updated 9/10/2015 5:15 PM

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said he is working with Coroner Rob Russell to find a way to resolve a dispute over unpaid bills without pursuing legal action.

He said Thursday he has not sought a judge's order to force the county to pay the bills.

 

At issue are more than $10,000 worth of bills Auditor Terry Hunt has said appear to be expenses for items and services not related to the coroner's state-mandated duties. He refused to authorize payment.

In July, the county board's executive committee recommended the county not pay nonmandated expenses that are in excess of the budgeted appropriation for the coroner's office. Russell contended then that 97 percent of the office's spending is related to mandated duties.

Russell said he has not exceeded his office's appropriation yet this year. Furthermore, the expenses in question would not be paid out of the county's general fund, he said, so criticism that the spending is wasting property tax dollars is unmerited.

The unpaid bills included biohazard cleanup of the morgue after autopsies; linen service, including sheets, lab coats and body bags; oil changes and brake repair work on vehicles; costs of making copies of mandated documents; and $5,200 worth of promotional items including backpack reflectors, plastic bags and hot/cold packs.

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Campaign items?

Chairman Chris Lauzen characterized the promotional items as "campaign trinkets." Furthermore, he said, the county can't pay for them out of the fund supported by a state grant and death certificate fees. That fund can only pay for expenses related to training deputies for investigations, equipment, and for automating electronic record-keeping. "I don't think reflectors for backpacks with his name on it" is what the fund is for, Lauzen said.

Russell said Thursday the bills for the promotional materials were miscoded as from which special fund account they were to be paid, and that has been corrected. They should be paid from another special fund, he said, supported by cremation permit fees.

And they have his name and phone number on them so people know who to call if they need information, he said.

As to why the coroner is handing out hot/cold packs? Russell said it is part of his program to promote healthful lifestyles, and that includes encouraging people to exercise. They can use the packs to relieve soreness, he said.

When he learned of the unpaid bills, he asked McMahon to obtain a judicial order forcing the county to pay. In a Sept. 3 letter to the county board, McMahon wrote that the county would likely lose lawsuits if brought by vendors for the vehicle, copying and cleaning for payment.

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