Kane County chairman, state's attorney renew fight with finger-pointing memos

  • Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen

    Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen

  • Kane County State's Attorney Joseph McMahon

    Kane County State's Attorney Joseph McMahon

 
 
Updated 4/3/2019 6:34 PM

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen called for hiring an independent attorney Wednesday in his ongoing clash with state's attorney Joe McMahon over union contracts.

Lauzen and McMahon sent dueling memos pointing fingers at each other for lingering confusion over the terms of the contracts.

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Lauzen's memo blames McMahon's office for "ambiguous" wording in contracts approved in December that Lauzen and as many as 11 board members have since tried, unsuccessfully, to rescind. Rulings by McMahon's office on the effectiveness of a rescind motion in late December and the votes needed for a second attempt at rescinding the contracts last month stymied the efforts. Lauzen's memo includes opinions he sought from three outside parliamentarian experts that indicate McMahon's office erred in rulings about advance notices and voting majority requirements that killed the rescind votes. Lauzen said he paid for those opinions out of his own pocket.

Outside of the memo, Lauzen cited those "errors" as reasons for the county board to hire an attorney independent of McMahon's office to get second opinions, if so desired.

"We have to stop this civil division from running amok," Lauzen said in an interview. He said the civil division of McMahon's office has not been properly supervised since McMahon took on the case of the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. McMahon objected to the hiring of an independent attorney.

"Unlike private attorneys who advocate for individuals, the state's attorney's office's obligation is to the people," McMahon said."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

McMahon issued his own memo to the board. A copy obtained by the Daily Herald shows it lays out a timeline of emails that suggests his office, the outside counsel negotiating with the unions and county finance director Joe Onzick confirmed with each other, and then with Lauzen, the exact terms of the union contracts before the board approved them in December.

The contracts cover employees in the county clerk, health department and workforce development offices.

The deals were to call for four-year terms, no retroactive pay and 2 percent annual raises. McMahon's memo says that's what the contracts include. The problem, McMahon wrote, is Lauzen, at least initially, misunderstood that there would be a 4.04 percent increase in wage expenses in the 2019 fiscal year. Under the new deal, the first raises were to come at the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

The memo includes an email on Dec. 8 from Onzick expressing concern that Lauzen misunderstood the raise dates. That triggered an email from McMahon's office to the outside labor attorneys requesting a direct contact between them and Lauzen to clear up the misunderstanding. An email on Dec. 10 says the attorneys contacted Lauzen.

However, in a subsequent closed-door meeting about the union contracts, McMahon's memo indicates county board member Doug Scheflow asked if the first wage check after signing the union contracts would reflect a 4 percent increase. But Lauzen responded by saying it would better to explain it to the public as four years at 2 percent with no payment the first year than as 4 percent, 2 percent, 2 percent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"These emails reveal who knew what and when about the financial terms of the (union contracts) and the true cost to the county of two raises close in time," McMahon wrote. "For the chairman to suggest a narrative that he was neither informed of, nor understood the terms of, the (agreements) is inconsistent with the email correspondence between the lawyers and Mr. Onzick and the direct communication between (the labor attorneys) and Mr. Lauzen."

As far as the parliamentary procedure disagreements, McMahon's memo says Lauzen's outside opinions are incorrect.

"They either cited an old version of Robert's Rules or the attorneys do not appear to have been provided with all the facts," McMahon wrote.

For instance, one of the opinions suggests the resolution to rescind in March was attached to a published agenda. The resolution was actually distributed for the first time at the meeting, causing the board to take a recess to review the wording.

The full board will meet again next Tuesday.

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