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County Board dismisses Vince Harris

Vince Harris

Investigation of Animal Control funds ordered

Tom Latonis
Breeze-Courier Writer

(TAYLORVILLE) — At the close of a marathon four-hour Christian County Board meeting Tuesday night, members voted 12-3 to dismiss Vince Harris, Solid Waste Management Director and Christian County Zoning Director, from all duties. The move followed a meeting behind closed doors for nearly an hour-and-45-minute session at which time the vote was take.

Immediately after the vote to fire Harris, a motion was introduced and approved to have the appropriate law enforcement agency – Illinois State Police, FBI or Illinois Attorney General’s Office – to investigate and review all of the accounts of Christian County Animal Control. Harris had also been director of Animal Control until recently.

“Bring your keys in to me as soon as you can,” Board Chairman Matt Wells told Harris, who had attended the meeting.

This morning, Christian County State’s Attorney Wes Poggenpohl said the actions to dismiss Harris came after a citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request concerning the finances and accounts of the Animal Control Department.

“What brought what was discovered to the Board’s attention was a FOIA request by a concerned citizen in the county about some possible accounts that weren’t properly the way they should be with the treasurer’s office by county policy,” Poggenpohl said.

Board Chairman Matt Wells was charged with the task of notifying a law enforcement agency to investigate the situation immediately. However, Poggenpohl said the county – sheriff’s office or his office – would not be part of the investigation.

“It’s not going to be the sheriff’s office due to the employee nature, so it will be an outside agency that does it,” he said. “Either the state police or possibly an investigation through the Attorney General’s office.”

With Harris also being director with Zoning and Solid Waste, Poggenpohl said there has not been any questions with the finances of those departments brought forth.

County Board members Matt Wells, chairman; Dale Livingston and Tim Carlson voted against the motion to dismiss Harris. Member Mike Specha was absent from the meeting.

Harris began his career with the county in May of 2018, being named Director of the newly consolidated Animal Control and Zoning departments. In February of this year, he was appointed as the county’s Solid Waste Director after Joe Stepping had retired.

In other matters members approved paying county employees who worked through the COVID-19 pandemic an “Appreciation Bonus.” Anyone who was employed with the county – other than department heads and elected officials – will receive the bonus. Full-time employees who worked or were hired between March, 2020 and Jan. 1, 2022, will receive $3,000 and part-time employees are entitled to $1,500.

Caveats include those eligible for the bonus are those who have retired from the county and are eligible or are receiving a pension. This includes a half-dozen contact tracers who worked for the Christian County Health Department, but were laid off when the state took control of the tracing.

Christian County Treasurer Betty Asmussen said the funds will come from the county’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The bonuses, which should be paid to employees by July 27, 2022, will cost approximately $339,000.

The county will offer local towns and villages which do not have animal control officers a proposal to have the county animal control office assist them with animal complaints. The municipalities will be charged $25 per hour up to eight hours in a month.

The matter was approved, 12-3, with members Ken Franklin, Livingston and Venise McWard voting, “No.”

The original agreement was to charge municipalities $50 per hour, but an amendment was passed prior to the vote to approve to lower the fee to $25. It also passed, 12-3, with members Chuck Smedley, Franklin and Livingston voting, “No.”

There was some discussion about the newly signed contract for 911 Director Amy Toberman which Chairman Wells said the salary was more than county board rules allow. The new contract has a salary of more than $63,500, which Wells said violated county rules. The contract calls for a salary of $70,000 in 2023 and a $2,000 per year increase in 2024 and 2025.

Chairman of the 911 Board of Christian and Shelby County, Pana Police Chief Daniel Bland said the salary was in line with similar sized counties and was used as an incentive to retain outstanding help. But according to Wells, the scary should be based on the highest salary for the office plus longevity, plus 112%.

State’s Attorney Poggenpohl said the 911 Board did have the right to set the salary since their funding comes from taxes on cell phones and land lines provided through the state of Illinois.

Wells felt the county should re-examine the agreement between Christian and Shelby County show be reviewed with an option to withdraw from the agreement.

The Board also approved placing large concrete blocks at a lot near Moweaqua used for county highway materials storage. Cost is $2,450. Wells voted against the proposal.

• Approved a contract with CTI for cybersecurity for the county at a cost of $5,400.

• Sent a proposal to the Zoning Board of Appeals to a recommendation of a fee for meteorological towers to $5,000 per tower up to five years.

• Established salary for Animal Control Director range from $39,478 to $41,715.

• Re-appointed Joe Dorr to another five-year term and established a five-year term for recently appointed member Gary Merker.

• Appointed Dan Held to the Christian County Health Board.

• Sent a hiring procedure question to the Executive/Personnel Committee.

• Voted down a motion to send the question of a county Noise Ordinance to the Executive/Personnel/Legislative Committee.

The meeting adjourned at 10:34 p.m. Executive session was held between 8:47 and 10:27 p.m. For the executive session, a motion to suspend a rule during executive session limiting each member to two comments during the session, was approved.

Next meeting of the Christian County Board is Tuesday, July 19, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room of the Courthouse in Taylorville.

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