So Now the Chairman's Going to Freeze the Tax Levy? Right!

Local newspapers should not be letting politicians get away with playing Lady Gaga.

Geneva Patch just posted portions of a Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay press release in which she actually threatens to freeze the county property tax levy. Why, she even went as far as taking the Finance Committee to task for having the temerity to suggest otherwise.

“I could not stand by and watch an irresponsible budget increase the burden on the taxpayers,” said McConnaughay, who also is the Republican candidate for state senate in the 33rd District. “When property owners are seeing values go down, it is unconscionable to raise their taxes, especially without any coherent reason why.”

Ain’t it funny how she was never quite as sympathetic to our plight until she aimed for Springfield with one eye on the lieutenant governor’s seat. The truth is, the Kane County Board chairman has overseen the maximum allowable property tax increase for seven out of her eight years in office.

Those tax hikes have funded budgetary line items such as those infamous 50 percent pay raises to department heads who reported directly to her. Former Director of Development Phil Bus saw his salary explode from $95,000 to $153,181, resulting in his current $110,000 pension.

Former McConnaughay opponent Jim MacRunnels said in his lawsuit against the chaiman that those those raises will eventually cost taxpayers $20 million.

Of course, while the chairman claims they were essential to remain competitive, our prosecutors are paid so poorly they’re defecting to Kendall County faster than the North Koreans.

Not only that, but the chairman also blew out a $40 million surplus left by her predecessor, Mike McCoy. Granted, a great deal of it went to the new jail, but even that brand new building is inadequate.

And don’t forget that Animal Control has been riddled with problems. One director resigned in disgrace, another wasn’t qualified, and the last quit after just three months. Rabies citations went out in spite of a one-year data entry backlog. The icing on that cake was the Health Department couldn’t even pay the mortgage on that brand new building.

As if all that wasn’t enough, McConnaughay basically asked for Court Clerk Deb Seyller to sue her over the issue of who sets staffing levels. So she did to the tune of a cool half-million taxpayer dollars.

Despite whatever she says, Karen McConnaughay has been an unmitigated financial disaster, but because McCoy left the county so solvent, we’ve been able to absorb her fiscal indiscretions.

So now, counting on our collective ADHD, the chairman hopes to undo that miserable track record with one sweeping and utterly meaningless gesture. And if you consider one Patch commentor, she may have succeeded.

The gentleman essentially said he didn’t care about her motivation for freezing the levy because, “in the end it's a win for the people.”

No it isn’t! If a politician can undo history with a mere flip of the lip, then we’re all in trouble. So all that matters is the last thing she said? Mitt Romney certainly has made an art form of it.

The only thing that’s saving my steadily slipping sanity are comments like the one that came after my Geneva’s mayoral race column. As a result of reviewing why Mayor Kevin Burns is vulnerable this cycle, Kathy Zang wrote, “I appreciate reporters who bring up all the … decisions in a candidate’s past. I don't always remember all those situations … the news media today seems to have given up on reporting.”

And she hit the nail on the head.

Folks like Chairman McConnaughay believe they can get away with an ultimate makeover because the local papers aren’t doing their jobs. I seem to be the only one who’s keeping track of the politicians, and that ain’t braggadocio, it’s an outright lament.

I love Cathy Gresey and the Chronicle, but when was the last time they held a public official’s feet to the fire? When was the last time they reminded you about someone’s political track record?

The best they’ve managed to do lately is point out McConnaughay said the coroner’s seat was a medical one until friend and DuPage Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Russell was in the running. Now it’s suddenly a law enforcement position.

And the Daily Herald is even worse. I love some of their watchdog reports, but despite having one of the better reporters in the area, they never take on the local leadership—especially if they have any ties to Denny Hastert.

Take a good look at their recent endorsement history, and it’ll curl your toenails.

And as long as suburban newspapers abrogate their responsibility to remind us of the truth, these politicians will stretch it about as far as it can go. The process of taking ‘em on shouldn’t fall to a lowly freelance opinion columnist.

It’s time for these papers to start doing their job. They need to start telling it like it is. In this case, watching Karen McConnaughay call for a county tax freeze is a lot like watching Lindsay Lohan call for more rigorous rules of the road.

Michail Gomberg October 10, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Thank you for pointing out Karen McCounnaughay's track record. Before the new jail was built I pointed out the financial consequences to many people including going to a board meeting with a presentation. The answer at the time was that the county was going to spend the surplus and go into debt and they were happy to do this! Interesting how easy it is to spend other peoples money and settle them with debt. Incidentally I submitted a story to the Chronicle at the same time pointing out the bogus methods used to come up with the numbers behind the jail budget. The board paid thousands of dollars to a "consultant" from Colorado that threw together a spreadsheet in what I can only assume to have been a drunken stupor. When I showed the projections to a CPA he actually started laughing, no small task for an accountant. Unfortunately, the Chronicle being firmly behind the Chairwoman at the time didn't bother checking into any of the details. Karen McCounnaughay's fiscal record has been abysmal and freezing the tax levy is meaningless. Taxes will go up regardless, at least in D-304 due to the debt repayments which must be maintained. The reality is that the good times are over for the politicians and the upcoming decisions will not be easy or popular with anyone. The public is certainly watching now because they have no choice and I for one say better late than never.
Jeff Ward October 10, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Michail, The apathy of some newspapers fries my cookies. God bless the Beacon-News, Courier-News and Patch for encouraging me to do what I do. Jeff
Dan Campana October 10, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Michail ... when did you bring that information to the Chronicle? Which editor did you talk with at that time? I was there from 2004-07, as news editor for the last year-plus of that tenure. I will dispute KCC was "firmly behind" KMC to the point information would have been ignored or refused.
Terry Flanagan October 10, 2012 at 02:20 PM
For a while I could read the "news items" on candidates in the Barnacle, as it was affectionately called by some at the time, and accurately predict from those stories who they would endorse in contested races. I think I prefer apathy to veiled opinion pieces masquerading as news. But that's not the ideal either. Things have changed for the better since then, but there's always room for improvement in the news business.
Jeff Ward October 10, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Terry, Of course we don't want our reporters to veer into the opinion arena - it is the purview of the op-ed page to call out nefarious politicians. It can be done via editorial or, as I prefer, by an opinion columnist. It is the raison d'etre of the two Chicago papers who do both well (The Sun-Times is the better of the two). The problem out here is, the Chronicle and Daily Herald editorials are rarely worth reading and neither paper has a real opinion columnist. So like a grandparent who's lost their long term memory, they simply report in the moment. And any public official with half a brain (and that's all most of 'em have) will quickly figure out how to make the most of that - as the Chairman just did. Jeff
Patrick Sharpe October 10, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Because some of these editors and writers lean Republican; Democrat Jeff Ward finds everyone wrong except himself.....
Jeff Ward October 10, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Patrick, It's exactly because they lean that way that they should call out their own. Is a County Chairman that raises a tax levy by 50 percent really a Republican or are they a Democrat? Jeff
Max October 11, 2012 at 05:24 AM
So, she's a politician -- who knew? Freezing the levy can't be a bad thing.
Robert Jr. October 11, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If I were a politician, I would get cynical about the public.
Michail Gomberg October 11, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Max, It actually could be a bad thing. As an outgoing chairwoman Mrs.Counnaughay will not bear the consequences of that decision, but her successor will. I'm not up on the details of the county budget but I'm certain that they have a capitol plan which is forward looking. The higher tax levy is very likely a result of the earlier decisions made under the current chairwoman's tenure. I love lower taxes but what I really want is a disinterested government composed of public servants that do what is right for the constituents instead of furthering their own ambitions. As Jeff's column suggested Mrs. Counnaughay track record resembles the later.
Michail Gomberg October 11, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Dan, I don't see a reply button on your post. I went to the Chronicle in the 2004 time frame. I didn't speak to anyone, but emailed the information. I no longer have any of the details of who it was emailed to and having moved this summer I also don't have the documents that I put together save for one spreadsheet. I received no response from anyone at the Chronicle. At the time anyone that spoke out against the jail was considered an NIMBY and since I lived directly behind the jail the label could easily be applied to me. The bottom line however is that no one in the local press bothered to check on the credentials of the jail consultant or looked at the numbers being used to justify the construction. The information was freely available on the county web site. I didn't need to request it. Perhaps as you say the KCC was not "firmly behind" the chairwoman but certainly no one was minding the chicken coop.
Michail Gomberg October 11, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Jeff, I have been reading your columns for a while now and I would like to thank you for your public service. Your columns are usually entertaining and informative and you take on many local issues that other members of the press do not. Keep up the good work. I sometimes don't agree with your views, but hey that's what makes life interesting. We can't all agree on everything.
Max October 12, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Michail, "[A] disinterested government composed of public servants that do what is right for the constituents..." is a fantasy we all entertain from time to time. Here's another: balance the budget by cutting spending.
Michail Gomberg October 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Max, I'm not yet so cynical to say that it can't be done. As voters one thing that we can do to help is to stop focusing on our own partisan politics and vote for people that are qualified and have a track record to prove it. I tend to lean toward democrats on many of my views but I will vote for anyone that has practical ideas for better government and the ability to see them through.


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