Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen hired a consultant, former Kane County Coroner Mary Lou Kearns, to audit all autopsies current Coroner Rob Russell's office conducted last year.
Lauzen wants an audit to determine whether the 160 autopsies, at a cost of $1,000 each, were necessary. The information will provide guidance in determining this year's budget and the future, he told the Aurora Beacon News.
“How much we spend dictates how much we tax,” Lauzen said.
Russell's proposed 2015 budget is $949,500 — 14 percent over the $843,000 amount he agreed to stick to for three years during a compromise with the county board last year.
Under state statute, the county cannot decide how the coroner's office spends his budget and Kane County must pay for any costs if he exceeds that budget, the State's Attorney's office said in a November letter about Russell's invoices. However, the county can conduct an audit if he exceeds his budget, according to the letter.
Russell feels his office is being scrutinized more than other county offices.
“I don't want to do autopsies based on finances,” said Russell, adding if he did so, it may result in violating state laws.
Lauzen hired Kearns to manage a review of the 160 autopsies, up from 108 the previous year, conducted last year. She already has reviewed between 50 and 60 cases that obviously required an autopsy, he said.
He has requested all documents from the remaining cases from Russell's office, but his office has not received any information yet, Lauzen said.
Russell suggested pulling together a task force of area coroners who could review the autopsies for free and someone who could relate to the changes in the field.
“I think it would be very advantageous for the county,” Russell said. “You are going to spend $10,000 to $20,000 on something that can't be changed.”
Lauzen nixed the idea, citing Kearns' record.
“We are going to a proven expert,” Lauzen said.
Ironically, the coroner's office was audited under Kearn's tenure when a county board member accused her of nepotism after she hired her son to a deputy coroner position just before resigning in 1999. Her son left the position shortly after.