Politics & Government

Legal fight between public officials costs taxpayers thousands of dollars, and it’s not over

Computers, other items seized from Madison County government offices

Police on Jan. 10 raided at least two Madison County offices and temporarily sealed them with police tape. Madison County Sheriff’s Lt. David Vucich confirmed that offices were raided in the county’s administration building. The purpose of the rai
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Police on Jan. 10 raided at least two Madison County offices and temporarily sealed them with police tape. Madison County Sheriff’s Lt. David Vucich confirmed that offices were raided in the county’s administration building. The purpose of the rai

A lawsuit between Madison County officials and the county auditor has cost taxpayers almost $80,000 in legal fees so far.

After Auditor Rick Faccin, who confirmed the figure Friday, denied the administration and the board access to county financial data for an extended period of time, a resolution was passed to allow the administration read-only access to the system that held the information.

In turn, Faccin sued the county board, board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, county Administrator Doug Hulme and Treasurer Chris Slusser after the resolution was passed.

Later, Hulme and Prenzler filed a countersuit to gain access to the county financial information.

The legal fees stem from attorney costs for Prenzler, Hulme, Slusser, the county board and Faccin.

Faccin is being represented by Goldenberg Heller, an Edwardsville law firm, while Assistant Madison County States’ Attorney Jeff Ezra represents the county board and Slusser. Don W. Weber is representing both Prenzler and Hulme.

With another setback in the lawsuit this week, those legal fees could continue to rise, Faccin said.

Settlement delayed

Earlier this month, Prenzler and Faccin reached a “tentative settlement,” in which the chairman and county administrator would have read-only access to financial records.

Both officials agreed to end the lawsuit and that reaching a compromise was in the taxpayers best interest.

However, the proposed settlement needs county board approval and the board voted 15-10 on Wednesday night to delay a vote on the settlement until August.

Faccin said he was surprised by the decision adding that the delay in the settlement, which came after a lengthy executive session, will only end up costing the taxpayers more in a lawsuit that was avoidable.

“I’m trying to end it for the taxpayers’ sake,” he said. “I thought we had an agreement so it doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The motion to postpone a vote on the settlement was proposed to give the board’s attorneys a chance to receive more information on the settlement.

Prenzler said he still supports the settlement and said he still hopes the county board approves the agreement, which allows himself and Hulme access to the county’s financial data including revenue and expenditure from the past 10 years.

“This tentative compromise lets us see the financial data we need to manage the county,” Prenzler said. “Compromise between elected officials is always in the taxpayers’ best interest.”

Board member Tom McRae, R-Bethalto, said he hopes in the coming weeks Faccin and Prenzler can “take the lawyers out of it” and end this dispute that is costing the county thousands.

“My hope is they both decide that we’ve spent enough money on this — $80,000 up till now — and decide to both disarm,” McRae said.

Faccin confirmed that the legal fees from both sides have cost taxpayers almost $80,000 in legal fees so far.

Ongoing investigation

Faccin said he wishes the lawsuit hadn’t been necessary. He said he felt “backed up against the wall” to file the lawsuit in an effort to protect private and personal information due to the states’ investigation into the county administration.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons formed the task force that led to a January 2018 raid of two Madison County offices to seize public computers. The investigation is ongoing.

Faccin said because of that investigation, the county administration could not be trusted with the financial information.

Prenzler would later compare Faccin’s restriction of the financial data to the tactics of the Islamic State terrorist organization. In an email to his supporters, he compared the refusal of access to the use of “women and children as human shields.”

The county’s planning for the next fiscal year starts later in July. Prenzler and Hulme have argued throughout the disagreement that the financial information will be needed during that process.

“The financial records of the county are public information,” Hulme said in April. “Access to this data is necessary for us to do our job.”

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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