Lauzen wants board to defy state's attorney
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen initiated an end run around a state's attorney's investigation Wednesday by asking county board members to override a legal opinion that says Lauzen may have broken the law.
Lauzen asked the county board for explicit permission to hire the Chicago-based law firm of Schain, Banks, Kenny & Schwartz. The firm would advise Lauzen on how to move forward on using the county infrastructure for cellphone amplification, selling the use of the county's fiber optic network and creating a waste-to-fuel facility. Lauzen believes the three plans could net millions of dollars that could delay any need to raise local property taxes.
Opinions from Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon's office say there is no legal authority to move ahead on the plans. But Lauzen has pointed to existing cellphone amplification programs in Chicago and other communities as evidence of bad legal advice coming from McMahon's office. It's because of that advice Lauzen sought outside help about how to move forward, he explained to board members Wednesday.
McMahon's attorneys have also notified Lauzen and the board they view the consultants as outside legal counsel. No county elected officials can hire outside legal counsel without McMahon's OK.
Lauzen said McMahon's input on hiring the firm is just advice and opinion. That doesn't mean the advice is sound or the opinion correct.
"My general rule is when there is doubt take the question to the board," he said. "I'm going to ask the big bosses, the county board. If people don't want that revenue, put a 'no' vote on it and some of us will take some time off."
Five members of the board, sitting as the finance committee, asked for more details about what services the consultants will provide and what the moneymaking projects entail. Then, with some trepidation, they voted to approve the hiring.
"I am 100 percent behind looking into other (revenue) options," said board member Susan Starrett. "The other side is that there have been opinions stating that some things are maybe not as we see them. If there are issues, and we're receiving letters from the state's attorney, I don't know the ramifications if we vote on this."
McMahon's office declined to comment on the committee's actions or Lauzen's characterization of the pending investigation.
Lauzen said in an interview after the committee vote McMahon's legal opinion on the hiring amounted to "attempted intimidation."
"I think it's very clear that this is a type of political retaliation; it's a type of payback," Lauzen said. "There was never a problem with me spending what was approved before we got into the areas of bonuses and budgets."
The state's attorney's office is one of the county departments recently shown to award employee bonuses. Lauzen and several county board members have decried the practice, but McMahon has not announced any plans to end them.