EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a press release from Madison County Board members Tom McRae, Mick Madison, Lisa Ciampoli, Mike Walters and Helen Hawkins.
EDWARDSVILLE — The morning after a closed session meeting of the Madison County Board last week, a scathing press release was sent, on county letterhead, to media outlets concerning the potential settlement of a lawsuit filed by a woman who sued Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler.
Linda Dunnagan, who had worked as the comptroller within the county treasurer’s office, sued Prenzler in federal court after Prenzler eliminated her position as part of his promise to the voters to cut his budget and streamline operations. Although the comptroller position Dunnagan held does not exist in any treasurer’s office in all 102 counties in Illinois, Dunnagan sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dunnagan claimed she should be protected because at the time her job was eliminated, she was recovering from a serious illness.
“I was absolutely shocked that the county would issue a press release on a pending case that potentially undermines the standing of the county,” said Tom McRae, a Republican County Board member from Bethalto. “This case is still awaiting final review by the trial judge who could significantly reduce the judgment against the county, and the ill-advised statements of the representatives of our county government may have actually hurt the county’s ongoing efforts to minimize the cost to taxpayers.”
Prenzler promised in his 2010 campaign for Madison County treasurer that he would end the corruption in the Treasurer’s Office that sent former Treasurer Fred Bathon to federal prison. He also promised to cut his budget by 30 percent by eliminating waste and streamlining operations. After updating and automating the tax collection system within the office, Prenzler concluded the position of comptroller, a position that doesn’t exist in any other Illinois county treasurer’s office, should be eliminated. Prenzler advised Dunnagan, the comptroller at that time, of his decision to eliminate her job, but did offer her another lower-paying management job within the Treasurer’s Office. Dunnagan chose to retire instead of taking the other job.
The case could potentially be appealed based on whether or not Dunnagan should have been considered disabled. The case hinged, in large part, on the definition of “disability.” After consulting with county lawyers, Prenzler believed the case didn’t have merit because he didn’t consider Dunnagan to be disabled, and that a jury would agree.
A federal jury that included a retired judge, found in favor of Dunnagan in the amount of $450,000 even though her return-to-work authorization, signed by her physician, contained no restrictions. Damages may still be reduced by the judge in the case. Damage caps may limit the amount to $50,000 if Dunnagan is found to have been an exclusive employee of the Treasurer’s Office or $300,000 if she is considered a “county” employee. Also, the case could potentially be appealed on the basis of whether or not Dunnagan should be considered disabled at the time her job was eliminated.
“It’s healthy for elected officials to be held accountable for their decisions. However, in this case there seems to be a double standard that is troubling,” former County Board member Chris Slusser said. “Just a few years ago, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber was sued in federal court by a female employee who claimed that she was discriminated against because a male coworker doing the same job was paid significantly more money. The jury awarded her $500,000 because of the workplace discrimination. Where were the press releases and private closed sessions of the County Board then?”
Republican County Board member Lisa Ciampoli feels the executive sessions recently held by the County Board were election year partisanship because Prenzler is running against Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan in November. “Although two separate executive sessions were called by Chairman Dunstan to discuss the Prenzler case with the entire County Board (including a rare special meeting), Chairman Dunstan never once called for an executive session of the County Board before paying the nearly half million dollar settlement in the Daiber case. The Daiber case was quietly settled under the radar by the political machine without executive sessions and scathing press releases. “
County Board Member Helen Hawkins, a Granite City Democrat, called the press release and executive sessions part of the “political witch-hunt by those threatened by Prenzler.” Mick Madison, a County Board member from Moro, agreed with Hawkins, saying: “The closed sessions were political theater.” Added Madison, “Kurt cleaned up the Treasurer’s Office, exposed Fred Bathon’s corruption, fought against the countywide 1 percent sales tax and worked to defeat the $20 million bond issue to renovate the jail. The Democrat political machine is threatened by that, and they seem to be willing to make sure this case is sabotaged.”
Mike Walters, a Republican Board member from Godfrey, said, “Many current or former elected and appointed officials have been sued by county employees, including Bob Daiber and former County Administrator Jim Monday, among others. In addition, the county is facing a class action lawsuit from property owners who believe they were defrauded by former Treasurer Fred Bathon.” Walters asked: “Where was the outrage by those wagging their fingers at Mr. Prenzler on these cases?”