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McMahon: Clerk made his own deal on ex-deputy's severance

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 11:44 p.m. CST

GENEVA – Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham’s separation agreement with a former deputy clerk was negotiated entirely by him and the cost also will come out of the clerk’s budget, county officials said.

Geneva resident Jeff Ward, who was placed on a five-day suspension in March for doing campaign work for Cunningham’s re-election, resigned from his position as an applications analyst April 1, according to the seven-page agreement.

Ward had worked in Cunningham’s office since Dec. 7, 2012, on a part-time basis until June 9, 2013, when he went full-time, according to payroll records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Cunningham’s office agreed to pay Ward $11,298.42 in a one-time lump sum severance payment within 30 days of Ward signing the agreement April 19. The agreement also states the clerk’s office will not contest it if Ward applies for unemployment.

Cunningham had said the deal was negotiated “by the lawyers” and that Ward had not been paid yet.

“The check is in the hands of the legal department,” Cunningham said this week.

But Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said the only role his office played was to serve as Cunningham’s attorney – as he does for all independently elected offices – including the sheriff, circuit clerk, coroner and recorder.

“We serve as their lawyer, so when they have a contract that needs to be reviewed … by law, the state’s attorney’s office has to represent that officeholder,” McMahon said. “The officeholder still negotiates those terms.”

Constitutional officeholders like Cunningham make decisions independently of the County Board, McMahon said.

“They decide the substance of the agreement – we will draft the legal language,” McMahon said. “In this scenario, the dollar amount of the severance – that was Jack’s decision …. Jack can make this agreement on his own without input or a decision by the County Board. Officeholders can make decisions – good or bad – and not I nor anybody else can stop them from making a bad decision.”

Cunningham did not return phone messages or a text seeking further comment.

Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Lulves, who is the civil division chief, said his office does not physically have Ward’s severance check.

“Jack’s office will notify us through payroll,” Lulves said.

And then it would be sent to Ward’s lawyer, once the process goes through the county’s payroll department, Lulves said.

Kane County board member Mark Davoust, R-St. Charles, said he understands the County Board has no power to veto the severance agreement.

“Once he presents a budget and the County Board approves it, the money is in his budget and he handles it from there,” Davoust said.

Still, Davoust questioned the generosity of Ward’s severance agreement.

“Why on earth would you reward … someone for doing something wrong?” Davoust said. “While the money comes from Mr. Cunningham’s budget, the only dollars we work with are taxpayer dollars. It’s still our money getting spent.”

Davoust lost to Cunningham for the GOP nomination for county clerk in the March 18 primary. Ward’s use of the county server to do Cunningham’s re-election work was referred to McMahon’s office by the county ethics adviser. McMahon’s office does not comment on possible or pending investigations.

Cunningham would be seeking his fourth term as clerk and, so far, is unopposed in the November election.

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