Chairman's Video: How We're Making Decentralized Self-Government Work For You

Chairman’s Video: How We’re Making Decentralized Self-Government Work For You

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen has posted a YouTube video that talks about the advantages and disadvantages of the “decentralized self-government” model that Kane County has put in practice during the past eight months.

You can see the video for yourself by clicking the play button on the video embedded above. This video and future videos will be available on the lower left side of the Kane County website home page.

The videos also can be viewed on the Kane County Government YouTube page.

Here is a synopsis of the video presentation:

Decentralized Self-Government

  • By Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen

The government we want is four things: honest, competent, limited and inclusive. Honest means “open”, i.e. that the details of how decisions are made and how tax money is spent is transparent for all to examine.

Competence requires that the appropriate number of knowledgeable people are involved making decisions.

Limited means that government should only do what each of us cannot do on our own, i.e. build roads, provide for public safety, and coordinate necessary services that constitute the general welfare.

In Kane County, we rein in the size of government by freezing property tax levy increases to as close to zero as we can. We’ve succeeded for the past five years after seven years of a 50 percent cumulative increase, but it is getting harder.

Finally, good government includes us all. There has been an important “transition” in Kane County government in the past nine months that I think you might be interested in.

A little more than 20 years ago, the people of Kane County voted in a referendum to directly elect the board chairman countywide (most recently with 129,000 votes) rather than leaving that decision to 24 board members in a county with 532,000 constituents. In effect, this created the expectation that the countywide chairman would serve as the chief operating officer.

We’ve gone one better in Kane County when we did not hire a county administrator, saving taxpayers between $180,000 and $225,000 every year — a total of $1 million since I’ve worked here.

There’s only one problem with how this responsibility was assigned … but it’s a pretty big one.

In statutory “township” form of county government, like Kane County, authority is not automatically granted just because the chairman is elected broadly. In “executive” form of county government, authority is granted through referendum, usually at the same time the election is established. Will County made the transition to executive form of government at the same time as they set the election of chairman countywide. DuPage and Kane County did not.

For 19 ½ years, through two terms of Mike McCoy, two terms of Karen McConnaughay, and my first 3 ½ years, the practice was the same as the expectation, namely the chairman is the de facto chief executive officer, especially in Kane County, where we’re saving money by not having an administrator.

Our state’s attorney has pointed out that the state statutes make clear what the “Duties of Chairman” under #2-51 are, i.e. “(A) Reserved. (B) The chairman shall preside over all meetings of the County Board. (C) The chairman shall have such other duties, powers and functions as may, from time to time, be assigned to him by the County Board. (Res. 72-21, 4-11-1972, Res. 24, 2-11-1975).” That’s it.

Our ordinances say clearly that the state’s attorney has the sole authority for appointing any/all attorneys who are paid by the county — so there are no appeals, no second opinions. That’s it. Consistent with the statutes, but inconsistent with our citizens’ expectations, in my opinion.

I can try to change the state statutes, but 20 years of hard labor in the state Senate taught me “Easier said than done” and “Good luck on that one!”

The way that DuPage County handled the empowerment of sufficient central authority to their countywide elected chairman is to pass a series of rules at the beginning of each two-year board member term.

I suggested to our board that we should discuss this “rules” option and that I would offer several experts in local county and state government to lead the discussion, like the director of Northern Illinois University’s Graduate School of Public Administration, or even Jim Nowlan who literally has written books and is a recognized national expert on these subjects.

But, two of our more vocal board members postulated, “If there’s something you want to change, it must be a ‘power grab,’ ” and another: “All operating functions should be initiated and managed at the board level.” And the Daily Herald newspaper obliged by writing this as the beginning of a potential argument that would sell them more papers but tear at the unity of our board.

The wiser, more productive members of the board remained politely quiet.

This is not a so-called “power grab” and certainly not about me. This is about establishing a proper balance between board responsibility and its delegated authority for day-to-day operations. It’s about good governance in all its appropriate roles.

Rather than argue or give up, maybe there’s an opportunity here for not only inclusive decentralized management of the fifth-largest county in the state, but also an opportunity for the deeper engagement of the substantial capabilities and contributions of our most competent and accomplished board members.

In December 2016 or about eight months ago, we embarked on an experiment in decentralized management of the county, and so far, so good. We have some really talented people who have been elected by their neighbors, and they have accepted the challenge to run their committees after I appointed them. Here are some good examples:

John Martin

John Martin from Geneva was a former managing partner of a prestigious law firm in Wheaton. He is in charge of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. His challenge along with members of that committee is to properly manage the area where we spend 65 percent to 70 percent of our entire county budget.

John Hoscheit from St. Charles is both a lawyer and a CPA. He has served on the board for 20 years and is chairman of our Finance Committee. To hold the line on property taxes while maintaining superior level services is his particular opportunity along with his team.

Deb Allan from Elgin has served on the board for many years and is known for her empathetic personality. She brings this sensitivity to people and a deep devotion to public service to chairing our Administration Committee, where “the old” and “the new” are combined. Our county buildings are old, quaint and difficult to maintain economically, and our Information Technology Department is where many innovations must be absorbed into what we do every day.

Bill Lenert from Sugar Grove owned and operated a substantial insurance agency, made payroll every two weeks, and served his clients for 35 years before he successfully sold his company a year ago. He is chairman of the Human Services Committee, where his experience with employee benefits has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars already while still enhancing employee productivity.

Kurt Kojzarek from Gilberts is a young property manager with a growing family who has distinguished himself along with members of his team on the County Development Committee. We have had some important and delicate decisions to make in this area, and Kurt has navigated some pretty dangerous and potentially contentious waters.

There are many more examples of County Board members who have stepped up their contributions to Kane County citizens. So, this experiment of collaborative decentralized management of the county is off to a good start because the committee system is working as it should and talented board members are infusing our mutual efforts with their experience.

Our board members are making the best of very complicated and difficult situations, and I appreciate their conscientious work.

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