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More than controlling animals in this Kane position

Jeff Ward

Jeff Ward

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Updated: November 25, 2011 12:22AM

Those “anonymous” online political insiders who insist on defending Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay at every turn will have a field day with this one. You’d think they’d get tired of kissing the chairman’s ring.

But when a politician runs for the new Elgin-area 33rd District State Senate seat on a “fiscal conservative” platform, it’s up to the press to point out any paradoxes.

And let me tell you, folks, this time we have a doozy. The Kane County Animal Control Task Force’s final conclusion was that Kane County Animal Control really isn’t providing that bang for the taxpayer’s buck.

It started with Lisa Lembke, the capable McHenry County Animal Control administrator/veterinarian. She told the task force that Kane County would be much better off hiring a director who could also assume both roles. You see, in addition to the previous administrator’s $92,000 salary, Kane County pays an outside vet $24,000 a year. Lembke said the county could hire someone with both skills for less.

But word on the street is McConnaughay and Health Department Executive Director Paul Kuehnert are pushing hard to make interim director Sharon Verzal permanent. Like the previous director, Verzal is neither a veterinarian nor has she ever worked with animals before.

It was reported that McHenry sees 2,500 animals per year on a $720,000 budget while Kane works with 500 for $692,000, but KCHD spokesperson Tom Schlueter disputes those numbers.

Although he claims Kane County “handles 2,200 animals a year,” he included 620 animal complaints and 968 animal bites, which seems to be a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Schlueter contested the budget numbers, too. He insisted that if you compare line items directly, Kane County’s Animal Control would come closer to $565,000. But to get there, he omitted expenses such as health insurance and vehicle and building maintenance. And Kane County Animal Control just asked for a 36 percent increase for 2012.

Of course, the chairman likes to argue the lack of a shelter surgical suite forces us to seek outside help. She even tried to say that it would cost $425,000 to build one. But Lembke’s classic response was, “I don’t know what kind of Cadillac that’s driving,” adding it could be done for a mere 20 grand.

Even if the county steadfastly refused to come up with that meager amount, there’s a vet who’s offered to perform those services for free.

Dr. Jack Schaefer of the VCA Aurora Animal Hospital has volunteered repeatedly to treat our shelter animals at no charge, but he’s been rebuffed three times. It can’t be his reputation. Kendall County uses VCA. The sheriff’s K-9 unit uses VCA. Everyone raves about Schaefer.

County board member Melisa Taylor, R-Sugar Grove, told me this gracious proposition comes out of a desire to give back as well as to provide training opportunities for his veterinarians. Schaefer even said he’d board the animals when necessary.

“In the meantime, we’re driving animals right past Dr. Schaefer’s to Yorkville Animal Hospital for spaying and neutering,” Taylor said, “Why isn’t this contract done yet? What’s the hold-up?”

Schlueter said they weren’t aware of his offer until recently and added, “Dr. Schaefer is now providing Kane County with four spay/neuters per week.” That’s a start.

Once cornered, McConnaughay had the nerve to dismiss the task force with, “But our residents do not want to pay for a higher level of service than they are currently getting.” Nah, we’d much rather pay more for subpar services.

Although I’m sure you’re catching on, please allow me to simplify.

McConnaughay and Kuehnert would never hire someone like Lembke because she wouldn’t fall in lockstep behind the chairman — she’d actually do the right thing. Their strategy is to promote a known but unqualified staffer like Verzal, “earning” loyalty and silence in return.

They won’t touch Schaefer with a 10-foot pole because then they can’t reward their friends with county contracts. For example, perennial coroner candidate and McConnaughay ally Stan Hickrod might just lose the shelter’s cremation contract.

And all that money going to Yorkville? Here’s what I want you to do. Type “Yorkville Animal Hospital” at Google and click on the “Images” link. Yep, that’s former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, the man who brought us McConnaughay, standing right there with the facility’s owner and veterinarians.

So go ahead, my unnamed McConnaughay minions, rip me to shreds. But then please provide some sort of reasonable explanation as to why any 33rd District voter would ever want to send a “fiscally conservative” Karen McConnaughay to Springfield. Your continuing efforts are far more entertaining than anything on Comedy Central.

Jeff Ward can be contacted at

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