News

Kane committee eyes abolishing auditor, recorder posts to hire county administrator

Penny Wegman: ‘This is not a cost-saving question, this is a question about transparency’

This week, Kane County Board members began building a consensus for a new sales tax to support public safety. The request won't appear on the June primary ballot, but voters might see it in November.

GENEVA – In the wake of Kane County Auditor Penny Wegman’s audit reports that were critical of some of the county’s spending decisions, board members broached the idea of appointing or eliminating the elected position of auditor.

Board members also mentioned merging the county clerk position with the county recorder role. Penny Wegman’s mother, Sandy Wegman, is county recorder.

The discussion at the Executive Committee meeting April 6 was an introduction to the idea, Board Chair Corinne Pierog said. Voters would have to approve those changes by referendum, officials said.

Board member Drew Frasz, R-Elburn, said a move to eliminate the auditor and recorder positions might save enough money to hire a county administrator.

Both Penny and Sandy Wegman slammed the suggestions as politically motivated.

“This is an attempt by the County Board to prevent the public from knowing how taxpayer money is used and misused,” Penny Wegman said. “Eliminating the independent elected auditor will eliminate the only independent office that has access to the finances of the county. … This is not a cost-saving question. This is a question about transparency.”

Audits from Wegman’s office in the past year revealed that nearly $60,000 was spent on one employee’s private school education at DeVry University; that the county was spending $4,000 a month for cellphones not being used; and more recently that a county executive director recommended his wife be hired as a $5,000-a-month temporary employee without disclosing the family relationship as required by the Kane County ethics ordinance.

Frasz said he thought the county could use an administrator.

“This is nothing against anybody in those positions,” Frasz said. ”It’s kind of crazy to think you could elect a county board chairman and they could run a 1,300-person enterprise right out of the gate. Most counties don’t have an auditor and the clerk does the recorder’s job. And if we did away with health insurance for board members, I think we could fund a county administrator.”

After reviewing a salary analysis of elected county officials that was introduced at that meeting, Frasz said Lake County does not have an elected auditor and the recorder’s duties are part of the clerk’s offices in Winnebago and McHenry counties.

“It just kind of occurs to me – because it has been discussed a few times over the years – that there may be an opportunity for restructuring that would allow us the funds to become more efficient in certain areas and fund a county administrator,” Frasz said. “I just think that is something we can talk about.”

Board Vice President Kenneth Shepro, R-Wayne, said the Illinois Constitution requires certain offices cannot be changed or abolished by a county board, but the recorder’s office can be merged into the county clerk’s office.

The Illinois Constitution allows a county coroner, recorder, assessor or auditor to be elected or appointed.

“Any office may be created or eliminated and the terms of office and manner of selection changed by county-wide referendum,” according to the Illinois Constitution.

“That has been done in certain areas. Cook County did it, but it was done by referendum, not board action. The county treasurer cannot be eliminated or restructured,” Shepro said. “The auditor’s office can be made appointed or abolished. I think there’s only less than 20 elected county auditors in the state and that also could be done by referendum.”

Shepro said any action would have to be done before the beginning of the new terms of those elected officials.

If a referendum passed that eliminated the auditor’s and recorder’s offices, it would not take effect until the 2024 election and it would not affect the terms of anyone currently serving, Shepro said.

Sandy Wegman has been recorder since 2000. Penny Wegman is in her first term as auditor.

The recorder’s office maintains the county’s land records.

“Our office is entirely fee funded,” Sandy Wegman said. “The money coming into the recorder’s office, we put that money into the general fund and only take back what we need to run the office. We give them several million dollars a year.”

She challenged whether it would save money to fold the recorder’s duties into the clerk’s office because there still would be a need for staff and a director.

“I think it’s strictly political,” Sandy Wegman said of the talk to eliminate both offices or to appoint the auditor. “It probably would not save money. There are no statistics from any counties where this has been done to indicate there has been a savings.”

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham said his office already took on the Aurora Election Commission with a $2 million budget.

“You would have to look at the people there and what the cost of labor will be. If it does not lower taxes on the public, there’s not much sense in doing it,” Cunningham said.

“The recorder is making less now than most department heads, so it would probably cost more to have it in the clerk’s office,” Cunningham said. “It should not be done for political reasons, only cost savings – and that’s piling a lot on the clerk.”

Penny Wegman said there may be a need for a county administrator, but not at the expense of an independent office that saves taxpayers money.

“Already this year, we have identified over $37,000 of invoices that departments have entered for payment but they were already paid,” Penny Wegman said.

That means they were submitted twice and would have been paid twice if her office had not intervened, she said.

“The already understaffed and overworked finance department is not in a position to absorb the responsibilities of my office without hiring more staff,” Penny Wegman said. “Therefore, spending more money would not be saving any money by eliminating the auditor’s office.”