Former Challenger MacRunnels Sues County Board Chairman McConnaughay Over Staff Raises
Jim MacRunnels takes County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay to court, calling past staff raises "appalling" given the state of the economy. McConnaughay says McRunnels' motives might be political.
Jim MacRunnels unsuccessfully tried to unseat Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay in 2008. Now he's taking her to court to try to stop McConnaughay from doling out raises, according to court records filed this week.
MacRunnels, an Elburn resident and frequent critic of government spending, seeks an injunction against the two-term chairman to block her from giving pay raises to employees he says were under her control. He also accuses McConnaughay of skirting county rules that require the County Board to OK any such salary increases.
In the injunction request, MacRunnels names 14 current or former county employees who "have been given raises or had their salaries established by (McConnaughay)" without any board approval.
"I find it appalling that Ms. McConnaughay authorized these raises when many people in Kane County are either out of work or struggling to get by," MacRunnels said in a statement.
McConnaughay said Wednesday night that MacRunnels questions practices that have been in place for many years and under the administrations of at least two previous County Board chairmen.
"There are a number of things I don't think he understands," McConnaughay said. "Some of those employees haven't had a raise since 2007. So he looks at compensation structure and tries to say we were giving out mega raises, and that's just not the case.
"I don't know how he came up with that group of names," she added. "About five of those people report (directly) to me."
The top earners
McConnaughay said the 14 employees mentioned in the suit fall under at least three categories of compensation practice: county officers, county executives and employees who report to county executives.
McConnaughay said county officers' salaries are set by state statute and approved by County Board resolution. An example would be Carl Schoedel, the county's superintendent of highways, who McConnaughay said is named in the suit but whose salary increase is not determined by her.
Five of the employees named in the lawsuit are county executives who do report to McConnaughay but whose compensation, she says, rose prior to 2007 due to a reorganization.
"Those folks were put into brand-new jobs," she said. "What happened was that when we were restructured, that is a different compensation. (Each of) those five people were put in a higher management position at a higher salary and took on additional responsibilities."
McConnaughay admits that the salary increases for county executives were based on incentive packages, in which increases over a three-year period were based on meeting certain high-acheivement "golden objectives."
"Now it looks like they got these mega raises, but it was a really just a management tool," she said.
McConnaughay said the county's longstanding practice has been for executive directors to handle reviews and raises for employees within their departments.
"The Executive Committee's policy has been to let them set the standards for the people who report directly to them," she said. "We generally don't discuss yearly increases. If it's going to be large, the executive directors do discuss it with us. And then we look at things like: What do they pay in surrounding collar counties?"
Although the court filings do not specify when McConnaughay allegedly handed out raises, MacRunnels' statement references 2009 salaries that included several employees earning more than $100,000.
McConnaughay said that if the county code and state statutes suggest that the County Board must approve the raises of all 1,200 county employees than she would be willing to follow that procedure.
She said she did not think MacRunnels' lawsuit was seeking monetary compensation for damages or any remuneration from the county.
"As far as I can tell, he's not asking for anything other than I not do it again," she said. "To be honest, I haven't sat down with any attorneys yet. If I'm interpreting what I think that lawsuit says, the best I can tell is, 'I want her to do it by the books.' That's something the committee does need to look at—what is your standard practice? And what is the best practice?"
A generous county
MacRunnels filed his injunction request almost exactly a year after The Beacon-News detailed the breadth of raises issued by the McConnaughay administration between 2004 and 2009.
In 2008, Kane County had the highest average salary—$55,486—in northeastern Illinois when considering all government workers at the county, municipal or other levels below state level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Kane County itself is the largest government employer in the county.
McConnaughay has pointed out in the past, however, that Kane County has fewer total employees and its total salary expenditures are different than some of its neighbors.
"We don't have an administrator, for example," she said. "Kane County is one of the few counties of its size that does not have an administrator."
McConnaughay said she respects MacRunnels' concern for Kane County taxpayers but suggested that the lawsuit might have additional motivation.
"I don't think anybody should forget he ran against me once and he's said he is going to run against me again," she said.
In a bit of legal irony, McConnaughay will be served by the Kane County Sheriff's Office with a court summons issued by the Circuit Clerk's Office. Sheriff Pat Perez and Circuit Clerk Deb Seyller have had run-ins with McConnaughay over spending practices during the county's recent budget struggles.
The case is set for a March 31 hearing.