DIXON – Over the summer, the Lee County Board unanimously approved a long-range financial plan that called for hiring a county administrator.
Many members urged a go-slow approach. Still others warned that the county lacked the money to pay for another top-level employee.
Recently, Sauk Valley Media submitted questionnaires to County Board candidates. One of the questions was about their views on hiring an administrator.
Most candidates supported the idea, but others expressed reservations. One said “absolutely not.”
District 1’s Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, didn’t rule out hiring an administrator, but he set a high bar.
“Having a county administrator would be a luxury,” he wrote in response to the questionnaire. “This person would help the board out; however, this is a cost that currently does not fit in our budget. We as board members run and are elected to do a job, and we should take the time to do the job until such time an administrator is affordable.”
Then, he said, the board should have plans in place to justify the position.
Supporters say an administrator would make the county more efficient and aggressively seek outside grants.
Vern Gottel, R-rural Sterling, came up with the idea for the long-range plan and pushed hard for including the administrator in it.
In response to the questionnaire, the District 1 board member said the administrator would coordinate policies, contracts and planning. The official also would oversee the $18 million annual budget, he said.
“Professional county administrators have been educated in bonding, finance, personnel, insurance, safety regulations, ethics and administration,” Gottel wrote.
Wes Morrissey, an Amboy Democrat in District 1, disagreed with the idea.
Asked about hiring the administrator, Morrissey responded, “Absolutely not. It would cost too much money, and that person would not have a vested interest in the county as he or she would most likely live outside of Lee County.”
District 1’s Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon, said the administrator should run the county government, while the board sets the policies.
“In addition, the administrator can be of great help to the board in researching both sides of an issue and providing the board with facts,” she wrote. “We all have seen firsthand what happened in Dixon with part-time persons running the show.”
She was referring to the case against Dixon’s former comptroller, Rita Crundwell, who is accused of misappropriating $53 million over more than two decades. Many have blamed the scandal on the structure of Dixon government, which has no administrator and puts part-time city commissioners in charge.
Kasey Considine, an Amboy Democrat running in District 2, said the county shouldn’t hire an administrator now.
“If the County Board members took a more proactive approach to their positions, it likely would not be necessary.”