Jeff Ward: Lady Gaga’s got nothing on Kane board chairman
By Jeff Ward For The Courier-News July 17, 2011 8:39PM
Updated: October 31, 2011 3:13PM
Apparently, Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay has watched one too many Lady Gaga videos.
Don’t panic. She’s hasn’t gone as far as wearing a meat dress or “hatching” herself from a large plastic egg. But in an attempt to appeal to 33rd Senate District voters, our new state Senate candidate is doing everything she can to reinvent herself.
And she’s nearly as entertaining as Ms. Gaga in the process. Although I certainly enjoyed reading that press release announcing her candidacy, I’m not so sure hiring comedy writers may have been her best move.
For reference, the painfully gerrymandered 33rd District runs from Batavia north through Geneva, St. Charles and South Elgin, west through Gilberts and Hampshire, back east through West Dundee and Sleepy Hollow, and finally north again to Huntley, Lake in the Hills and Algonquin.
Of course, it doesn’t touch Democratic Elgin with a 10-foot pole. With no incumbent and the chairman’s residence lying in the heart of this new overly Republican district, some folks say it was tailor-made for her. (Illinois Dems had to throw the GOP at least one redistricting bone.)
But back to our press release. McConnaughay starts off by trumpeting her “fiscally conservative” state Senate “plan.” So now she’s a fiscal conservative?
Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure passing out 50 percent raises to your department heads, directors and managers disqualifies you from consideration as the tea party poster child. Under her reign, former Director of Development Phil Bus’ salary shot from $95,000 to $153,181.
Of course, McConnaughay defends this brand of “fiscal conservatism” by claiming Kane County needs to “attract quality people.” But then our self-proclaimed “straight shooter” paid her prosecutors so poorly they’ve been jumping ship in droves to neighboring counties.
Then there’s the matter of “Honey, I shrunk the surplus!” Former board chairman Mike McCoy left us with $40 million in 2004, but now that contingency fund has been reduced to a paltry $1 million. We did have to build a new jail, but that doesn’t nearly account for all of it.
Then, when West Dundee Village President Larry Keller introduced McConnaughay at her Senate announcement press conference, he lauded her “core belief that the taxpayers always come first.”
I can’t argue with that. Whenever she reconsidered the county tax levy, McConnaughay always puts the taxpayers first — on her list of revenue sources. Since 2004, the county has increased its property tax levy by 50 percent.
For good measure, she also gutted the health department and dropped family services cases on our already overburdened social service agencies. Sure, the county saved some cash, but you and I have to pick up the tab for all those unnecessary emergency room visits.
Keller also commended the chairman’s “leadership” ability, claiming she “builds consensus to get the job done.” I’m guessing he forgot about that McConnaughay instigated the lawsuit Circuit Court Clerk Deb Seyller filed against the county.
Although she likes to lay the blame for this budgetary battle squarely at the feet of Seyller, it was Elgin county board member and McConnaughay hatchet woman Cathy Hurlbut who told the clerk they’d “welcome a lawsuit.”
So much for building consensus.
McConnaughay also listed pension reform among her first priorities. If anyone should understand financial havoc caused by runaway government pensions, it’s her. Remember those raises? The pension obligation they’ve created has put Illinois taxpayers on the hook for yet another $20 million. In large part, because of Bus’ 61 percent raise, he now enjoys a $110,000-a-year taxpayer-funded “retirement.”
Lastly, the chairman called for the state to “reform the way it does business.” Reform? To paraphrase Paddy Bauler, the late great Chicago Democratic machine progenitor, “Karen McConnaughay ain’t ready for reform.”
Here’s a challenge. Compare the list of engineering firms with county contracts to the list of engineering firms that have contributed to McConnaughay’s campaign coffers. Don’t worry. You’re not seeing double. They’re pretty much the same.
Then there’s the consultants — who include Bus, at $30,000 a year — the cronies and the friends hired or appointed to patronage positions they couldn’t begin to handle. So now the county faces another lawsuit over lapses at the animal shelter.
Folks, the chairman’s fondest wish is that you all have very short memories, because that’s the only way her Gaga-esque reinvention attempt will ever succeed. The truth is, she’s just another tax-and-spend Republican.
I have to admit, the thought of the chairman leaving us for the state Senate made me want to “Just Dance.” The problem is, if we fall for her new “Poker Face,” trust me, it will turn out to be just another case of getting caught in a “Bad Romance.”
Jeff Ward can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.