Kane County Turns Up the Heat on Hiring Freeze
In the wake of Chris Lauzen's attempt to hire political ally Robert Sauceda, a Kane County committee considers including penalties for officials who attempt to sidestep its hiring freeze.
The fallout from Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen's attempt to hire political ally Robert Sauceda as a billing manager continued this week as a county committee started looking at strengthening the rules for hiring during a freeze, according to a number of area media reports.
The Daily Herald reported Thursday that the county's Finance Committee basically agreed with the notion that the County Board should sign off on all future hires for new positions.
The freeze has been around a long time—since 2008, according to an article in the Kane County Chronicle—but county department heads have been allowed to fill vacancies or hire in emergency situations virtually at will. In practice, department supervisors have been able to hire seasonal or part-time workers when needed, the Chronicle said.
The Chicago Tribune said a county resolution requires that the board review the hiring freeze policy every six months, but that fell by the wayside, as many good intentions do. The Finance Committee on Wednesday renewed its resolve to put the six-month review on the agenda.
Kane County Board member Mike Donahue said that's a good thing.
"It appears that there are no penalties for violating the ordinance so it can be ignored at will without fear of enforcement or repercussion," he said. "Many like to point to the ambiguity of the ordinance to justify the creation a new position without county board approval, but the ordinance could not be more clear in my opinion. It states that 'no new personnel shall be hired unless specifically approved by the county board.' Ordinances are seldom as easy to interpret as this one is.
"County budgets will remain tight in the next year or two as the economy recovers so I support maintaining the hiring freeze," he said. "If amendments are needed to make it more clear than it already is then I will support those amendments. But going forward I believe that all new hiring should adhere to the freeze."
The freeze came into focus after Lauzen asked Kane County Health Department Executive Director Barb Jeffers to hire Sauceda to a $50,000 position as billing manager. The Kane County Board rejected the nomination in closed session, reports said.
Lauzen, who made political cronyism a big issue during his campaign for board chairman, ran alongside Sauceda in the "Reform Kane" ticket of the 2012 primary. Sauceda had run for a County Board seat in the South Elgin 16th District.
One of Lauzen's campaign promises was to eliminate even the perception of pay-to-play cronyism in county government.
“The definition of corruption is serving yourself or your pals rather than the public,” Lauzen told the Chronicle during the campaign.
Donahue, who ran Kevin Burns campaign against Lauzen for County Board chair in the GOP primary, said the perception of political patronage is a problem.
"This is not just a person who voted or put up a yard sign. This is a person who ran as a running mate on the Reform Kane ticket. Further, the job was newly created and then given to this individual without advertising and soliciting multiple applicants," he said. "Regardless of rationale or justification, any reasonable person could perceive this as political patronage or cronyism; and in politics perception is reality, unfortunately."
But Lauzen also promised to run the county like a business, which includes hiring "the best people and practices you can find.” In a recent Kane County Chronicle letter to the editor, Lauzen said he was doing that by choosing Sauceda.
The hiring freeze issue is expected to come up again at an Executive Committee meeting on March 6, the Tribune said. Finance Committee Chairman John Hoscheit told the Chronicle that his committee probably would consider the hiring policy at its next meeting, scheduled for March 27.