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Winnebago County Review Reveals Concerns Over Budget, Nepotism, And Widespread Bullying

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Winnebago County's newest board chairman has released a 60 day review looking at financial and policy concerns facing county government.  It's part of Frank Haney's campaign pledge to implement the "ACT Initiative" to bolster accountability, collaboration, and transparency. 

According to the document, the review "is a starting point in which to build on and not intended to be a complete or final analysis."

Haney says the county board has been welcoming to him as chairman and the administrative team. He says they are open to new ideas and opportunities to move the community forward, but the board also wants its authority respected and has requested increased communication from the County Board Office.

Among the findings of the financial and operations review:

  • Projected tax revenue (corporate replacement, income tax) is trending down for FY ’18.
  • The County has no capital plan. This makes priority-based spending as part of the budget process extremely difficult.
  • The budget process lacks collaboration with department heads and Board which results in confusion, gaps in understanding, and lack of trust.
  • There is no vehicle or gas-card allotment policy for staff and elected officials. Vehicle purchases for elected officials have ranged from $25k to $48k. Additionally, there is an example of a County executive trading in his county-provided vehicle in exchange for more salary.

Among the policy findings:

  • Political campaign activities have been conducted inside the County Administration building utilizing staff time and other County resources in clear violation of the law.
  • There is a long-term pattern of pressuring department heads to employ or hire friends and family with the threat of retribution (budgetary and otherwise.) Example: One elected official had a minimum of five immediate family members employed at the County. A revised policy is expected in the coming weeks.
  • Bullying has been reported and appears to be widespread. Example: An employee was coerced into publicly affirming an incorrect statement to the media.
  •  Sexual harassment complaints were reported but ignored by an elected official, permitting sexual harassment and perpetuating a hostile work environment.

The review says the county is in the process of determining next steps to address the issues within the document.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.
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