GENEVA – Kane County Information Technologies Executive Director Roger Fahnestock recommended that his wife, Suzanne, be hired as a temporary county employee, but without disclosing the relationship, according to a report by auditor Penny Wegman obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The supplemental audit, which is different from the temporary employee audit posted on Wegman’s website, cited the county’s ethics ordinance, which states, “Employees shall fully disclose the existence of any relationship to a family member who is an officer or employee of the county at the time of election or employment. Discussion with Human Resources indicated they were not aware of this family relationship.”
Via email, Roger Fahnestock directed questions to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Kane County Executive Director of Building Management Christopher Allen hired Suzanne Fahnestock from March to May 2021 as a temporary worker through the Salem Group, according to the audit, which the Kane County Chronicle obtained through a FOIA request.
Allen had no direct supervision of Suzanne Fahnestock and was not aware of actual work performed, but was directed by Roger Fahnestock to approve and sign off on 11 invoices to pay her, totaling $15,901 for the three-month temporary job, according to the audit.
Although she was paid through the buildings and grounds department with CARES Act funds, Suzanne Fahnestock worked for Board Chair Corinne Pierog to set up the mass vaccination centers and send out news releases about them, officials said.
The audit report does not name Fahnestock or Allen – identifying Allen as Director No. 1, Roger Fahnestock as Director No. 2 and Suzanne Fahnestock as Director No. 2′s wife – nor does it name Pierog’s board office as the actual department Suzanne Fahnestock was working for.
Pierog and County Board Vice Chairman Kenneth Shepro, R-Wayne, confirmed the identities in the audit.
Wegman would not comment about why the Fahnestocks, Allen and Pierog were not named in Wegman’s supplemental audit of the county’s use of temporary workers through Salem Group staffing.
‘She created miracles’
“Roger hired his wife through Chris,” Pierog said, referring to Christopher Allen. “I was witness to that, without question. It was for developing capacity for the mass vaccination sites and the marketing of the mass vax sites and their logistics. … My god, she created miracles. Would I hire her back? If the need came and the opportunity presented itself, without question. She’s a fixer. She knows how to fix things. She knows how to fix operations.”
When Wegman’s office requested a job description for Suzanne Fahnestock from the Salem Group, Allen, Roger Fahnestock and Pierog’s office, none could be provided, according to the audit.
Pierog said there was a job description, but she did not know where it was located.
Wegman’s audit recommended further investigation by the Kane County Board to determine if the hiring of Suzanne Fahnestock violated its ethics ordinance – and to revise the ethics ordinance to include temporary employees.
The ethics ordinance does not state how someone is to disclose a family relationship and to whom.
County Ethics Adviser Grant Wegner said in an email that he agreed the ordinance does not state what procedure is to be followed for disclosure. Wegner’s email said the issue may require a legal opinion, which he has no authority to give. His email referred questions to the State’s Attorney.
State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser did not respond to an email asking how the disclosure is to occur.
Pierog defended Suzanne Fahnestock’s work for the county – regardless of how she was hired or paid – as her office had no budget to hire her.
“She worked upstairs in my office,” Pierog said. “That was historic that we were able to get that done. No one else, no other county did this.”
Pierog said at the time she was newly elected, just back from bereavement leave after her husband’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up and she needed help.
“It was crazy. I knew I had to get this done. … Suzanne’s name was mentioned by Roger,” Pierog said. “She is highly, highly qualified to get done what she has to get done.”
Suzanne Fahnestock previously had worked for Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham as chief deputy clerk and director of elections. She was executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission in 2019, was elected village president of Maple Park last year and was hired in December as director of the Bloomington Election Commission, records show.
“I talked to Jack [Cunningham] and some people, and sure enough, I brought her in and talked to her,” Pierog said of Suzanne Fahnestock. “She was perfect for the position. She knew exactly what to do. She was exceptional. She was perfect and hired through Salem [Group] as a part-time temp.”
Roger Fahnestock said in an email that he had not seen the auditor’s supplemental report and directed a reporter to ask Mosser about it.
Mosser did not respond to an email question about the auditor’s supplemental report.
The Kane County Chronicle provided a copy of the report to Roger Fahnestock, but he did not respond further.
Suzanne Fahnestock did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Allen, who is on administrative leave, did not respond to a message or an email seeking comment. While Allen is on leave, the county board put Roger Fahnestock in charge of building management.
Recommendations going forward
Wegman’s supplemental audit detailed other shortcomings in the county’s handling of temporary workers and made recommendations on how to address them, including:
• The county does not have a temporary employee policy and departments are confused as to who is a temporary employee and who is an independent contractor.
• Require Human Resources to be notified when departments use a temporary employee so appropriate badges can be issued to them.
• Require family relationships to be disclosed.
• If an independent contractor’s work is likely to last more than 600 hours in a calendar year, the county should considering hiring that person.
The audit states an opinion that policy gaps in using temporary employees have created a loophole where a temporary agency does not have to follow the county’s hiring process.
Shepro said the recommendations in Wegman’s audit should be considered.
“Any report and recommendations from the auditor deserve objective review and consideration to see if the recommendations need to be implemented in whole or in part,” Shepro said. “Any recommendation needs to be taken seriously. That does not mean I agree with the recommendations, but further investigation one way or the other would be appropriate.”
County board member Clifford Surges, R-Gilberts, chairman of the Human Services Committee, said his committee has been asked to review the policies as detailed in Wegman’s audit.
“These are policies that have not been looked at for years,” Surges said. “They date back to [former board chair Karen] McConnaughay, so at least 15 years.”
His committee’s next meeting is April 13.