GENEVA – Kane County did not retain any records pertaining to an employee’s classes or grades as part of a nearly $60,000 taxpayer-funded education at DeVry University, officials said.
County officials denied an open records request from the Kane County Chronicle seeking documents for an Information Technologies Department employee’s classes and corresponding grades earned during the university coursework because a former manager didn’t maintain them. Instead, the records were returned to the employee, officials said in their denial.
The Kane County Chronicle has asked the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor to review the denial.
County records already released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed that IT Department Executive Director Roger Fahnestock spent $58,211 for tuition to DeVry University so an employee in his department could earn a degree.
Fahnestock, who is also the department’s FOIA officer, stated in his denial that the county “has no records responsive to your request.”
“The invoices and accounts payable information were processed at the time by the IT Department’s Administration division management including the Administration Office Manager and Director of Administration. Grades and courses would have been verified at the time of payment or registration,” Fahnestock’s response to the Freedom of Information Act stated.
“After reviewing the records for successful completion with a passing grade, the Administration division returned all records to the employee,” according to Fahnestock’s response. “The Information Technologies Department does not maintain any other responsive records.”
In its request for review, the Kane County Chronicle cited the portion of the state’s open records law which states that a public record in the possession of a third party is not exempt from release as long as the third party is still contracted to perform a government function.
Also cited in the request for review was a previous attorney general’s office opinion dated July 27, 2020, which stated that “governmental entities must not be permitted to avoid their disclosure by contractually delegating their responsibility to a private entity.”
The employee who went to DeVry still works for the county as the administrative services manager for the IT Department at a salary of $64,000, records show.
The administrative services manager who handled the employee’s DeVry course schedules and grades retired in November 2020, county records show.
While Fahnestock and the employee have not responded to requests for comment, Board Chair Corinne Pierog defended the county not having the employee’s degree or a record of her classes or grades.
“I checked with HR (Human Resources) and there is no degree in their personnel files,” Pierog said. “She was not doing tuition reimbursement. She was going through training. That does not require a grade or a degree.”
The county’s tuition reimbursement policy requires that an employee earn at least a grade of C when filing paperwork to be reimbursed.
Kane County Auditor Penny Wegman first revealed the payments to DeVry after an audit of procurement card spending – credit cards known as p-cards – in which 15 of the DeVry payments were transacted over three years. The audit found that two payments were made by the county cutting checks directly to DeVry.