The Kane County Board was to vote Tuesday to retroactively approve department pay raises given by County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay three years ago, but the issue was pulled from the agenda at the last minute to be discussed in executive session.
That's when McConnaughay walked out of the meeting and announced she will "vigorously defend against a politically-motivated lawsuit over how the county set salaries for employees."
The lawsuit was filed by McConnaughay's former political opponent, James MacRunnels, claiming the board chairman violated state statutes by issuing the raises without the consent of the full County Board.
In a press release issued by the chairman's office, McConnaughay states that she strives for transparency in government, but it was decided "it would be in the best interests of the taxpayers to have this matter clarified once and for all."
"She literally walked out on the board," MacRunnels said. "She had a board meeting to run. She didn't even take the time to do her job, that we (taxpayers) pay her handsomely for."
MacRunnels' original suit was dismissed, but an appellate court reinstated the case. The next court date is Monday, July 16, and MacRunnels said his attorney, William King of Aurora, will ask the judge for a change of venue to "anywhere but Kendall and Kane" counties, where he believes the case won't get a fair hearing.
Board member Mike Donahue, District 11, said the chairman's decision to leave the meeting was appropriate given the change in circumstances.
"Because she's represented by her own special counsel, she would not be participating in the discussion at County Board level," Donahue said.
Several board members confirmed that it is the opinion of the Kane County State's Attorney's Office. County Board members are also defendants in this suit, by virtue of the allegations that involve the County Board, and since the state's attorney appointed special counsel to represent her, there would be a conflict of interest for that office to represent both the board and an individual member of the board.
However, MacRunnels said the County Board is not named in this lawsuit.
"Karen McConnaughay is named in that lawsuit, not the County Board," he said. "If (State's Attorney) Joe McMahon shows up or one of his people show up, I'm going to have my attorney ask the judge why are they here if they're not representing Ms. McConnaughay."
A press release issued by Jon Zahm, Kane County Conservative Coalition chairman, indicates the raises in question were issued in 2009, awarded to 13 executive staff members. Development Director Phil Bus saw his salary rise from $91,000 to $153,000—a 61 percent increase—that also boosted his pension from $5,000 to about $9,000 a month.
Board Member Drew Frasz, District 26, said he has no problem with staff being compensated for expanded duties.
"I think most of the people on the board just have a concern whether it was by design or serendipitous that Mr. Bus got this tremendous increase in responsibilities and therefore pay, when everybody knew he was probably going to be retiring in a few years," Frasz said. "It certainly gives the perception of pension-bumping."
Frasz said he believes in addition to litigation or ratifying the raises retroactively, there is a third option: settle the case.
"There are some of us on the board that want the state's attorney to approach the plaintiff, Mr. MacRunnels, and ask him what it would take to do that," he said.
Frasz said he did not support the chairman on the raises.
"I'm very uncomfortable. I will never vote to ratify those raises from that long ago," he said. "More importantly (is) that the appellate court has said they weren't done legally."
He said McConnaughay has made it clear to the board that she feels strongly that the raises need ratification.
"To be honest, the way she's talked to the board in recent meetings about this, it certainly hasn't won her any additional friends or support," Frasz said. "The people on the board don't appreciate being talked down to."