On the Agenda of the McHenry County Board’s Internal Support & Services Committee on Wednesday morning for the second time is an agenda item to legitimize the patronage hiring of Chairman Jack Frank’s two former employees.
To remind readers of what’s going on, here is a reprint of the last of three articles about the last meeting:
Michael Rein wondered if most jobs were not advertised on the internet and advertised.
“That’s correct,” County Administrator Peter Austin replied, [but] it varies for the electeds.
Rein asked if departments were “actively pursuing filling the two jobs now?”
“No,” Austin replied.
The Committee member wanted to know Austin was informed by Franks about his desired hires.
“Before the first of the year” was the answer.
Austin told the members that he had been told that Franks had phoned “a number of the members” to tell them about the situation.
“Though this may have been legal, it was misleading, fraudulent in nature,” Rein concluded.
“Would you have done it differently?” Rein asked.
Austin referred to the cliche about 20-20 hind sight and repeated, “This isn’t the way we do things normally.”
He added, “This has been a real problem for me personally.”
I believe the next speaker was Chairman John Jung.
“I think we’ve talked about this enough and it’s getting too political,” he said.
There was a motion made to immediately proceed to a vote, but the motion failed to gain a two-thirds majority, which Jung said was required to end debate.
Craig Wilcox drew State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally into the discussion and the State’s Attorney said, “We’re eager to serve when called upon.”
Then, Wilcox addressed Austin again.
“Could you see a rescinding of that employment?”
“I think that’s what’s before you,” Austin replied.
“I don’t know how this gets further legitimizing,” he said, indicating the hiring was the same as the authority given other countywide elected officials.
Then came the stunning admission:
“I let the Chairman make the decision of who to hire.”
The legality of the hiring had been argued by the contention that the County Administrator has the authority to hire employees.
“I think we did not do our diligence.
“Hiring requires authorization from the County Board.
“There’s no way I can approve this resolution, Wilcox concluded.
Donna Kurtz contended that the hiring process “should have allowed anyone interested to interview for the positions.”
She said she was getting “a dinging from the public.
“That doesn’t look right to the public.
“[State] statute does not say you can do that.
Mary McCann then took the floor.
She saw two issues:
- the authority of the County Board Chairman
- the hiring issue
She pointed out that Austin had hired assistants before.
Supporting her, Austin pointed out, “The Board rarely approves hires.”
“I think it time for a realistic discussion of that [situation].” McCann added.
Wilcox saw three issues:
- the authority to hire
- the positions themselves
- the hiring process
“Are you asking that these people be let go?” Chairman John Jung asked.
“I don’t like what happened,” he continued, “but Peter had been given the authority to approve up to the midpoint.
“It’s an elective office,” Jung pointed out knowing that the other countywide elected officials had the authority to hire the employees of their choice.
“You can hire Joe and not hire Mary,” Jung said.
“I see the other side.”
[The difference being that the office of at-large Chairman of the McHenry County Board was created by statute, while offices like the Sheriff, Treasurer, State’s Attorney, etc., were created by the 1970 State Constitution and, as such, had more authority vis-a-vis the County Board than Franks.]
“I don’t think believe it is clear Mr. Austin had the authority,” Kurtz said in rebuttal.
“When you have questions about what is proper, it is likely something was improper,” he concluded.
Seeing to frame the issue, McCann asked, “Is the Chairman Peter’s boss or are we all Peter’s boss?”
She argued that not approving the resolution “doesn’t do much for the moral for many of the employees we have, department heads as well.
“‘Gee. They’ll find an excuse to go after us for something they don’t like about us,’” McCann said, putting words into a county employee’s mouth.
Wilcox called for a request for a State’s Attorney’s opinion.
“Give me what you want to present to Patrick [Kenneally] and I’ll ask it,” Jung promised.
Austin said the issue was the re-classification of a position in mid-year without Board approval.
“In a nutshell, that is the issue..
“We did that, but there are parallels.”
Jung said the issue should be “come out of [the] Internal Services [Committee].”
“Just re-classifying doesn’t negate the packet posted,” Wilcox countered.
A vote was taken with Jung, Kopsell and McCann voting for the resolution which would legitimize, albeit belatedly, the hiring of Jack Franks’ two patronage employees.
Those three were outvoted by Kurtz, Rein, Wilcox and Wilbeck.