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Walworth County Sunday | Janesville Messenger | Stateline News

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Friday, 10 February 2017 13:17

Winnebago County report findings forwarded to U.S. attorney

Written by  CSI Media staff
Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney, 2017 Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney, 2017

STATELINE NEWS -- Following a scathing report released last week by new Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney, officials are evaluating a wide range of county operations.

After his first two months in office, Haney issued the report highlighting what he says is a culture of "pay-to-play political extortion," bullying and sexual harassment.

Read the report HERE.

The report, a 60-day review put together in partnership with the county board, aims to increase accountability, transparency and collaboration in county government.

The most troubling findings were forwarded to the U.S. attorney.

They included accusations of what the report called potential pay-to-play political extortion in host-fee spending.

 

Host fees are paid to the county by a variety of entities for county services, such as the Winnebago Landfill, and the fees then are used for economic development projects.

In one instance, according to the report, $80,000 in host fees were allocated to Freedom Field Renewable Energy, an organization on which former Chairman Scott Christiansen serves as a board member. Christiansen later proposed $500,000 in additional host fees for Freedom Field, although the request was later tabled by the board.

Christiansen responded to the Rockford Register Star by saying that the money was to be used to expand Freedom Field’s contract with Rock Valley College, whose students were doing research on renewable energy.

A host-fee disclosure policy has since been recommended to the operations committee.

The report also says political campaign activities were conducted inside the county administration building using staff and other county resources in clear violation of the law.

Staff told investigators that they were directed to participate in the campaign activity.

The activity has since been forwarded to the U.S. attorney’s office.

"The county has always had a nepotism problem," one community leader told investigators, according to the report.

For example, the report says one elected office had at least five immediate family members employed by the county.

Department heads were pressured to employ family members with threats of consequences to their budgets.

Board members also have been asked by their peers to make appointments to paid appointed board positions.

A recommendation has been made to prevent the board chairman from appointing members to paid boards until they have left the county board for a least two years.

Officials currently are working on a nepotism policy.

The report also indicates sexual harassment complaints were reported but ignored by an elected official.

The report went on to list dozens of other issues from bullying to inconsistent hiring policies. It also indicates that Haney and the board now are determining the next step and concludes by saying that bold moves and big changes need to be made.

Read the full report at CommunityShoppers.com.

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