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Local

Employee quits, still gets unemployment

State: Program not for those who leave by choice

DIXON – Kathy Lalley, former assistant director of the Lee-Ogle Transportation System, resigned on her own terms. That’s the official line, at least.

Yet she is receiving unemployment compensation – which is a government benefit designed to help those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

In Lalley’s March 14 resignation letter, she wrote, “I have decided to resign my employment with Lee County, effective March 19, 2014.” Earlier this week, she confirmed she was receiving unemployment benefits.

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum said Lalley left on her own terms.

The county, he said, was considering eliminating her position when her annual contract ended June 30, but no decision was made.

Lalley is under investigation, although officials aren’t giving details. Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller would say only that investigative reports regarding Lalley will be reviewed by another prosecuting agency and a decision on charges will then be made.

Greg Rivara, a spokesman for the state Department of Employment Security, which runs the unemployment compensation program, said he couldn’t discuss a specific case, but he could speak in general terms about the program.

When people apply for benefits, he said, they are required to give reasons why they no longer are working for their former employers. Then the agency contacts the employers.

“When we contact the employer, we are confirming with the employer that this individual is out of work and out of work for the reason they are telling us,” Rivara said. “If a person chooses to leave and we are told that they chose to leave, they would not be eligible for benefits. This is why the vigorous participation of the employer is critical.”

Everyone involved, he said, has a duty to tell the state agency the truth.

The state has many anti-fraud measures “so that we can stop dollars from fraudulently leaving the trust fund,” Rivara said. The agency’s website says the unemployment program does not help those who are “idle by choice.”

Most employers take part in the unemployment insurance pool. But some, including Lee County, do not. Instead, they reimburse the trust fund for each unemployment claim. The eligibility rules still apply, Rivara said.

Ketchum said he hadn’t seen the documents related to Lalley’s unemployment claim.

“The unemployment office makes the call about whether an employee deserves [unemployment compensation]. She was under the impression that we wouldn’t renew her contract. We agreed not to contest her unemployment,” he said.

On Thursday, Sauk Valley Media submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Lee County for the documents related to Lalley’s unemployment claim, which would include the reason for her separation from the county government.

Lalley was assistant director for nearly 2 years, making $44,000 annually. She previously worked in the county treasurer’s office.

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