URBANA – When Curt Deedrich showed up for work Saturday morning at the Champaign County Supervisor of Assessments office, he had an unpleasant surprise.
The locks to his office had been changed. He couldn't get in.
Later that afternoon, a Champaign County sheriff's deputy hand-delivered a letter to Deedrich, the supervisor of assessments, that explained the changed locks.
It seems Deedrich had been placed on indefinite administrative leave, with pay, pending an investigation into an allegation he had harassed some of his employees, read the letter from Champaign County Administrator Debra Busey.
That decision was overturned Sunday and by Monday afternoon, after his attorney interceded with Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz, Deedrich was back on the job.
But the controversy that led to him being placed on leave continues.
"All I can tell you is I'm here at work," Deedrich said. "I'm aware there's an investigation. I don't know who the complainants are or what the complaints are."
The employee complaints do not involve sexual harassment, but rather allegations of employee mistreatment by Deedrich, according to both Rietz and Deedrich's lawyer, Glenn Stanko.
Stanko contends the allegations are "politics, pure and simple."
"Curt was appointed by a one-vote margin," Stanko said. "The losing side, I think, hasn't given up."
The story about Deedrich's being placed on leave was disclosed in a political blog, Illini Pundit, in an entry written by Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden, a Republican.
"This is a public official in a public office, and the public has an interest in knowing what's happening," Shelden said.
Deedrich, a Democrat, was appointed supervisor of assessments in May 2004 in a 14-13 vote, with 11 Republicans and Democrats Steve Beckett and Kevin Brumback in opposition.
Republicans had strongly favored former chief deputy supervisor of assessments Paula Bates, an 11-year office veteran, for the position.
According to Stanko, Deedrich was notified on Jan. 23 via a letter from Busey that an internal investigation was going on.
On Friday, the county board's Performance Appraisal Subcommittee – consisting of county board Chairwoman Barbara Wysocki, D-Urbana, Brendan McGinty, D-Urbana, and Greg Knott, R-Homer – met in closed session and discussed the complaints against Deedrich and decided to place him on administrative leave. They did so with legal advice from Assistant State's Attorney Susan McGrath.
McGinty declined comment Monday night "because the investigation is ongoing." Wysocki and Knott could not be reached for comment.
Deedrich, who had been evaluated by the subcommittee in late January, said he didn't know he would be discussed at the Feb. 3 meeting and did not attend.
After his client notified him, Stanko said he promptly asked Rietz, the state's attorney, to review the legality of placing Deedrich on leave.
Stanko's contention: The supervisor of assessments is an office specifically mentioned in the Illinois constitution and is not subject to the county's personnel policy.
By state law, the only way a supervisor of assessments can be removed from office during midterm is by a two-thirds vote of the county board that finds him guilty of "misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance in the performance of the duties of the office." That provision means 18 votes on the 27-member Champaign County Board would be required for Deedrich's removal, Stanko said. The board must also give its reasons for removal in writing.
A supervisor who is removed can request a hearing before the county board, which must conduct the hearing within 30 days and can reverse its decision by a majority vote.
Rietz said it appears state law only allows a supervisor of assessments to be warned or removed from office, with no disciplinary steps in between. She said she decided "to deal with this issue cautiously" and reverse the office's advice that placing Deedrich on administrative leave was legally acceptable.
Deedrich was notified Sunday he was no longer on leave.
"The investigation on the employees' allegations is still ongoing and I'm not going to comment on that," Rietz said.