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The full story, rather than just emotions

Many people take a dim view of consultants who come into a workplace and try to find ways to make it more efficient.

Remember those hapless consultants, Bob and Bob, from the 1999 movie "Office Space"? Their search for corporate deadweight resulted in a disastrous promotion.

These days, the Lee County Board is talking about hiring a consultant to figure out the county's staffing needs.

The biggest proponent for a consultant is board member Dick Binder, R-Compton. Too often, he said, the board makes hiring decisions based on its mood or what day it is.

Is he that far off the mark?

As with many public bodies, the Lee County Board makes budgetary decisions in response to emotional pleas. Let me give you an example.

In 2008, then-Coroner Richard Schilling, who was paid a little more than $30,000 a year, urged an increase to $40,000 for the next coroner.

Schilling, who was retiring, said the County Board had regularly given raises to other elected officials, but not the coroner.

"I don't think it's fair," Schilling said. "I think it's on the verge of discrimination."

Two board members immediately spoke up for an increase. One of them was member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, who is usually the most outspoken for more spending.

Another member, John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove, proposed increasing the coroner's salary by $1,500 each year for 4 years. The board rejected that amount; it was too little.

A proposal by Doug Farster, a former county Republican chairman, called for an immediate increase to $40,000. That passed 12-11.

In so doing, the board responded to emotions, but it didn't get the full story.

Last year, Sauk Valley Media compared the budgets for the coroner's offices in Whiteside and Lee counties.

In 2011, Whiteside County dealt with 70 percent more deaths than Lee County – 478 to 281. At the same time, Lee County's coroner's budget was $115,000 to Whiteside County's $107,000.

Whiteside County's population is 60 percent greater than Lee County's.

In Lee County, the office has a coroner, a full-time employees who is the office coordinator and a deputy coroner; and three other deputy coroners.

Whiteside County, meanwhile, has a coroner, three deputy coroners and what Coroner Joe McDonald described as a "very part-time" secretary.

In short, according to the records, the Lee County coroner's office spends more, but does less.

Perhaps Lee County has a good reason for that. But Coroner Jesse Partington didn't have any explanation when we asked him last year.

Maybe a consultant – or the board itself – could figure that one out.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 


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