How Kane County chairman plans to regain authority
Chris Lauzen divides his reign as Kane County Board chairman between one before and after moment. There's the three-and-a-half years before he criticized State's Attorney Joe McMahon for paying employees secret bonuses. And there's the three months that followed, in which Lauzen lost his credibility and authority.
"These days I'm just sorting the good from the not-so-good," he said. "I can't believe that things can be said so quickly that are so harmful."
Lauzen's reputation was singed when McMahon said the chairman signed illegal no-bid contracts with an outside law firm in the pursuit of three projects to bring nontax income to the county.
But Lauzen has a plan to regain his former standing.
"Going to ribbon-cuttings isn't my personality," Lauzen said. "To run meetings is not why I ran, and I don't think that's why people elected me. I want to do it to make an impact. Joe McMahon wants to rewrite the rules. I don't trust him."
Step one of Lauzen's redemption plan is to show why he thinks McMahon is playing a game of revenge.
McMahon said Lauzen never asked the state's attorney's office about any income-generation plans. But Lauzen points to an October 2014 memo from McMahon's office as evidence of duplicity. The letter contains an opinion that the county cannot use public highway rights of way to generate new county income.
Lauzen took that as a "No" from McMahon on one of his ideas to lease space on county light poles to cellphone service providers so they could install small signal amplifiers. Knowing other communities sell space on their light poles, and feeling shunned, Lauzen sought help from the outside law firm.
"How many times should we ask?" Lauzen wrote in a letter to the Daily Herald about the memo's significance.
McMahon's office says Lauzen should have asked at least once. Officials there say Lauzen's smoking gun isn't even about cellphone amplification.
There is no mention of cellphone amplification in the letter, and Lauzen did not provide any details about his mounting amplifiers on county light poles, according to the state's attorney's office. Also missing were details on Lauzen's other revenue ideas, such as enticing a waste-to-fuel facility to Kane County or selling access to the county's fiber optic network.
Instead, the state's attorney's office points to a legal opinion from the law firm Lauzen contracted with as proof that the board chairman never ran his ideas past county lawyers. The letter from that firm says the topic McMahon's office addressed in October 2014 is a "materially different" issue from cellphone amplification.
In further support of McMahon's perspective, the state's attorney's office released a timeline of what it sees as Lauzen's bad behavior. It indicates that McMahon told Lauzen at least three times that hiring outside legal counsel was illegal. The first notice went to Lauzen in October 2015. That was about 10 months before Lauzen's public condemnation of McMahon's bonuses. But Lauzen said he still feels betrayed by McMahon.
"My credibility, he's destroyed it," Lauzen said.
Credibility won't impact Lauzen's re-election bid. He has no opponent on the Nov. 8 ballot. But he faces a new 4-year term believing he no longer has the standing or authority to be an effective chairman.
During the next three months, he plans to bring in a slew of local government experts to engage the county board in a discussion about effective leadership and government structure. Lauzen intends to show the board that counties with full-time administrators give that administrator the authority to sign contracts and spend money, just as Lauzen did in pursuing his income-generation plans. It's authority McMahon says Lauzen doesn't have. So Lauzen will point out he is Kane County's administrator and ask the county board to rewrite the job description of the county board chairman to give him the power he seeks to do his job.
"I'll accept the responsibility if I have the authority," Lauzen said. "Otherwise it's an impossibility. It tears you up inside. We'll see if we can get that job description approved. If not, then every committee chairman can run the individual county departments themselves."
Lauzen's attempt to rechart the future of his reign as chairman will begin at the county board's special meeting on Oct. 25.