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Phillips calls into question coroner’s funds

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 4:57 a.m. CDT

Grundy County Clerk Lana Phillips took issue Thursday with certain board members only berating Democratic officials for giving bonuses to their employees and pointed out concerns she has with Grundy County Coroner John Callahan’s office.

Phillips made comments at Thursday’s Personnel Committee meeting, where Callahan was not present. But Callahan said later he has never spent his department’s money on unapproved bonuses as Phillips has.

“Although Chairman (Ron) Severson could cite no illegality, that did not prevent him from stirring the pot, on several occasions. Also weighing in were Vice Chairman (David) Welter and Personnel (Committee Chairwoman Vicki) Geiger,” said Phillips during public comments Thursday.

Last month, Severson said he discovered more than $30,000 had been given out in bonuses from the county clerk’s, treasurer’s, state’s attorney’s, circuit clerk’s and the sheriff’s offices. Although not illegal, Severson said this was a morale issue since other county employees were not given bonuses.

He also said the elected officials who gave the bonuses should have come before the Finance Committee to discuss it.

His first report to the Finance Committee was that it was just the county clerk’s, treasurer’s and state’s attorney’s offices that did this, positions which were all held by Democrats at the time of the bonuses.

He later added the sheriff’s and circuit clerk’s offices as doing the same thing. Circuit Clerk Karen Slattery is the only Republican. When the state’s attorney’s office gave bonuses it was under Democrat John Bates, not current State’s Attorney Jason Helland, who is a Republican.

“But, one of the most egregious comments came from a Republican office holder who did not hesitate to hold himself to a much higher standard. He may want to revisit those comments, and perhaps look in the mirror in light of the way he is allowing his office to run,” Phillips said.

Phillips did not name Coroner Callahan during her comments.

Callahan, however, was the Republican office holder who made comments about the situation at the previous finance meeting.

“I am proud that I hold my office at a much higher standard,” said Callahan. “I feel as an elected official it is our duty and obligation to the taxpayers of Grundy County to operate the most-effective, fiscally responsible, and professional office.”

Phillips told the committee the coroner’s budget was over budget for the last fiscal year and that even amending it failed to address his overages.

Callahan said his office is annually over budget due to three line items that are beyond his control — vehicle maintenance; professional services, which include autopsy services; and toxicology. Vehicle maintenance includes gas where prices are hard to predict, he said, and autopsy and toxicology costs depend on the amount of deaths his office handles, which cannot be predicted and often are more than the previous year.

CALL-OUT PAY

County Clerk Phillips also implied that is it possible Callahan did give someone on his staff a bonus. An accusation Callahan said is untrue.

Phillips said she obtained information through the Freedom of Information Act for his “secretary’s” regular salary and her 1099 for 2012.

The coroner’s “secretary” she refers to is Karen Connor, who is listed on the coroner’s web site as “Administrative/Deputy Coroner.” Callahan said she is a certified deputy, which means she can and does work on death investigations, as well as handle secretarial duties.

What Phillips found in the FOIA information was a $500 additional payout in June to cover a May call out, she said. Phillips said Connor told her a call out is anytime Connor is called out, whether it is for a few minutes to open up the morgue or several hours on a death scene, and the pay is the same.

“So much for having a chief deputy,” said Phillips.

Callahan said the $500 was what Connor was owed, not a bonus.

When he looked back at his records, Connor was paid the $500 for a total of five call outs in May. She was needed to assist his chief deputy coroner because Callahan was on vacation at the time. In addition, his staff of three participated in a 7-hour training in Coal City on a Saturday, for which they were paid.

“Not to mention if I am off or my chief deputy is off, and there is additional work load that requires more assistance, then, yes, my administrative deputy will work and get paid for it at the time of service,” continued Callahan. “Never will any of my employees receive or be part of any clearing-house line items for a bonus.”

DEATH CERTIFICATES

All death certificates are filed in Phillips’ office by local funeral homes, but for U.C. Davis & Sons Funeral Home, Connor prepares the death certificates.

“This is done on the county’s time and the county’s dime; talk about stealing from the taxpayers. His secretary does not do this for any other funeral home, with the exception of the coroner cases,” she said.

Callahan, who does do work for the U.C. Davis home, said any work being done by him or Connor regarding a death certificate for a private funeral home is done on a break or lunch hour and is done on a personal computer. There is no expense or use of county equipment.

“It is truly sad when someone gets their hand caught in the cookie jar they immediately begin looking to blame others or pull others into a mess they created on their own reckless conduct and that is what Mrs. Phillips is doing,” said Callahan.

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