As previously reported, less than 25 days after taking office, newly elected county chairman Jack Franks hired two former campaign workers for patronage jobs that he created, using unauthorized funding sources and untrue job descriptions. (See article “Jack Franks’ Patronage Hires for Executive Assistant & Communications Specialist.”)
At Wednesday’s Internal Support and Facility Committee Meeting County Administrator Peter Austin stated that,
“This is not normal and this is not precedent.
“None of this is normal.”
Austin also revealed that in November after the election Franks established that he wanted to treat the office differently and at that time “established his desires” for these positions. (See article “Jack Franks Wants Personal Staff.”)
Austin was then tasked with finding ways to fund these hires since
- neither Illinois State Statue
- nor County Ordinances give the Chairman job creation or hiring authority.
Austin directed his staff to use funds from other unfilled positions—
- a technology project management position, and
- an Illinois Transportation funded analyst position
that were authorized by the County Board so Franks could create these jobs.
The patronage jobs that Franks created using these funding sources were for his personal Executive Assistant and his personal Communication Specialist. (See article “Employment Papers for Jack Franks’ Democratic Party Patronage Hires.”
County Board Member Michael Walkup called these two patronage jobs
“the most outrageous thing I have seen since I’ve been on this County board.”
He stated he was outraged because Austin did not follow the County’s established hiring process and because it appears there was a conscious effort to conceal these “patronage crony hires” from the County Board.
Walkup also called on Austin to provide justification for the County Administrator to have unilateral authority to create jobs as directed by the County Board Chair.
County Board Member Donna Kurtz added the Franks’ hires
“certainly fulfill the definition of cronyism and patronage.”
She said that this whole situation does not make the County government look good in terms of being open, honest, and transparent.
What has occurred is a very “dark mark” on the reputation of County government that previously has been viewed as being open and honest.
She also shared her concerns that members of the community have complained that FOIA requests are not being addressed in a reasonable manner.
According to County board member Michael Rein, the problem in using the hiring approach described by Austin is that
“these two new jobs that are not even remotely related to the definition of why those jobs were funded in the first place by the County Board.”
Rein also stated that “you have a transportation job with its stated duties and he (the Communication Specialist) is doing communication work and this work has nothing to do with transportation.
Rein said this is a huge issue— “it is almost like fraud.”
Committee Chairman Yvonne Barnes shared this concern by stating that a highly-specialized computer technical position, as defined in the job description, has been vacant since August, and now is being used for this other position “just doesn’t fly”
- because it was not the same position authorized by the County Board, and
- because this vacant position should have been eliminated after being vacant for 90 days per County guidelines.
Rein also mentioned that last week the newly hired Communications Specialist went with Franks on a tour of a local manufacturing facility in McHenry so he could take pictures exclusively of Franks at the factory (even though there were other County officials present).
Rein also stated that he was very concerned that the Franks’ jobs “circumvented” the normal process in which authorized jobs are posted and then interviewed and approved so that the most qualified people in the community can be hired.
Committee Chairman Yvonne Barnes took issue with Austin’s statements implying that the County Board is not involved with personnel and hiring issues and the examples of job hires used by Austin to justify the Franks’ patronage jobs.
She stated Austin was using erroneous examples to justify his actions since
- these were jobs that already existed,
- while these patronage jobs did not exist.
Chairman Barnes stated, “It is wrong to use this as part of your case of why it is OK for this to have happened.”
She called on Austin to justify his actions in terms of established County processes and guidelines that do not allow this, as well as his fiduciary responsibility to the county.
“I’m very concerned about people justifying decision-making with statements that can easily be proven false,” Yvonne Barnes, Chairman Internal Support and Facilities, said.