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Local News

Kane County coroner initiates legal action over unpaid bills

Kane County Coroner Rob Russell – who has been at odds with the County Board over finances – said Thursday he has initiated legal action against the auditor over unpaid bills.

The County Board in July approved a resolution authorizing the auditor to withhold approval for payment by the treasurer with any contracts, invoices or other claims projected to exceed a department’s or office’s budget.

Executive Finance Director Joe Onzick has said, as of July 31, the coroner’s office is trending about 1 percent over budget.

Payment is being withheld for items related to morgue cleanup and vehicle repairs and maintenance, among other expenses, Russell said.

“Not huge bills, but it’s the principle of it,” he said, calling it a “blatant disregard for the internal control statute.”

He notified board members of his legal challenge in a letter that was accompanied by an opinion from Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon.

“I encourage any and all of you to please insist that the auditor cease and desist his illegal actions in withholding payments legally authorized and needed by this office,” Russell’s letter stated. “If not, I will be forced to continue with the legal action needed to compel him to follow the law.”

Auditor Terry Hunt, who is on vacation until next week, said it is premature for him to comment because he has not had an opportunity to review Russell’s letter.

However, he did confirm the coroner’s invoices that aren’t statutorily mandated – including those for promotional items – are not being approved. The coroner could remedy the situation by curtailing expenditures, thus bringing projections within budget; request a budget adjustment; or a combination of the two, Hunt said.

Russell has unsuccessfully sought a budget adjustment to account for an anticipated $56,065 overage in autopsies. He wants the board to repeal its resolution from July, he said, calling it a “bad law.”

County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen said he is seeking clarification from McMahon because he is “confident” the state’s attorney isn’t suggesting county taxpayers fund promotional items for the coroner during a political campaign season.

“I know that the board has taken a firm position that when he’s projected to be over budget, that they want to take a closer look at the expenditures,” Lauzen said. “And the largest expenditure that’s under consideration right now is for what most of us would consider political campaign giveaways.”

The committee that oversees the coroner’s office is next scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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